The plot thickens...The row over payouts made to top Mannesmann executives took a new twist yesterday after Vodafone CEO Chris Gent and former Mannesmann chief Klaus Esser gave sharply contrasting versions of the events. Gent denied any wrongdoing and asserted that neither he or any other Vodafone director played a role in awarding the DM150m (£48m) in payouts to members of the Mannesmann board. Speaking at the annual meeting of the German mobile operator in Dusseldorf, Gent added that no Vodafone director had had any influence on the Mannesmann compensation committee until after the EC cleared the £113bn takeover on 12 April 2000. However, Klaus Esser claimed that the Vodafone board had approved his DM59m severance package in principle on 3 February 2000 - one day before the details were placed before Mannesmann execs. Esser added that Gent rang him after the Vodafone board meeting to assure him that the principle of his bonus package had been approved. However, Esser did agree with Gent's claim that he did not suggest his size of his bonus, claiming the recommendation came from Mannesmann shareholder Hutchison Whampoa. Vodafone told the Financial Times yesterday that it considered Esser's assertion that Gent had contacted him prematurely as "speculation" and added that it did not comment on speculation. The Dusseldorf public prosecutor leading the investigation alleges that payoffs were made to the Mannesmann execs in an attempt to remove resistance to the £110bn hostile takeover. The investigation was launched in March 2001 after a Stuttgart-based law firm alleged that Esser accepted the Vodafone takeover offer in exchange for the payment.