FRANKFURT -- BMW AG is pressing charges against unknown individuals responsible for leaking internal pictures and technical data to a German motor magazine, it said on Friday.
"Internal information became public that wasn't supposed to be seen," a spokeswoman for BMW said.
The first photographs of BMW's multi-purpose-vehicle, which have been kept secret ahead of its planned debut in 2008, were published in a July issue of Auto Motor and Sport.
The company claims the model defies traditional descriptions -- neither minivan nor estate nor even offroader -- preferring to call it a "space functional concept".
But in the pictures it looked like a grand sports tourer very similar in concept to Mercedes' new Vision R, which premiered at the Paris car show in September.
Information on three other planned models, including the next 7-series sedan and a cabrio version of its new 3-series sedan, were also published.
The magazine reported that BMW was planning to equip the upcoming 3-series cabrio with a hard-top retractable roof -- the first ever for BMW, which has obstinately stuck to soft tops for sports cars such as the Z4 roadster despite the sudden wave of demand for coupe-cabrios.
It also showed pictures of the high-performance M6 version of its luxury 6-series coupe and a 1-series wagon.
Immediately after the report was published, BMW took legal action and involved the state prosecutor's office in the southwestern German city of Stuttgart, where the magazine is located and which is home to rival luxury carmakers Mercedes Car Group and Porsche.
A spokeswoman for the state prosecutor confirmed that investigators have already searched the offices and apartments of around a dozen BMW employees in several cities.
"We've confiscated computers and data storage devices that we are now analyzing," she said, confirming a report in the Friday issue of Munich newspaper Tageszeitung.
BMW's move is highly unusual, partly because this is by no means the first time BMW models still under development have been displayed in enthusiast magazines.
Motor press magazines like Germany's Auto Motor & Sport and Autobild as well as the U.K.'s CAR routinely show spy photos of the industry's latest and hottest models without being targeted in probes by the public prosecutor's office. When asked why BMW decided to resort to legal measure, a spokeswoman said: "It's due to the type of information that was published." She declined to say why the company had not taken legal steps over other instances where BMW and Mini prototypes were published in magazine pictorials.
Thomas Fischer, managing editor of Auto Motor und Sport, said the magazine's offices had not been searched, but declined to comment further.