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Bayer extends CEO's term, reports Roundup progress

Bayer CEO Werner Baumann

(Reuters) — Bayer CEO Werner Baumann's contract has been extended until 2024, in a show of support from the drugmaker's new chairman just months after the company agreed to an $11 billion outline settlement of U.S. lawsuits over its Roundup weedkiller.

In a statement late Thursday, Bayer also said it was making progress in finalizing the settlement of claims that Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer, which Bayer inherited as part of a $63 billion takeover of Monsanto.

A judge in July raised concern about an agreement with plaintiffs' lawyers on how to handle a class of claims that may be brought in the future, throwing the overall settlement deal into doubt.

“The details of the revised class plan will be finalized over the coming weeks, and a motion for preliminary approval will be filed (with the court) upon completion of the formal agreement,” Bayer said.

Just weeks after becoming CEO in 2016, Mr. Baumann unveiled plans to purchase Monsanto.

He had the full backing of then-Chairman Werner Wenning, who retired in April this year and was succeeded by Norbert Winkeljohann, a former head of six European countries at auditing and consulting firm PwC.

Shareholders denied Bayer's top management a largely symbolic vote of confidence at the 2019 general meeting after the legal problems, but Mr. Baumann and his team won the investor vote at this year's iteration.

Ingo Speich, head of sustainability and corporate governance at mutual funds firm Deka Investment, remains critical.

“The timing of the contract extension is surprising because no significant legal dispute has actually been resolved,” he told newspaper Rheinische Post.

Mr. Baumann's new three-year contract will start from April 2021. The 57-year-old said he could have been given up to four more years but opted for a shorter contract to “accommodate my personal plans.”

Mr. Winkeljohann said he expected “the glyphosate litigation will be handled in a way that is satisfactory for the company, makes economic sense and is structured in a way that enables potential future cases to be efficiently resolved.”

Bayer's shares were up 1.3% at 1250 GMT on hopes for a final resolution to the legal dispute.

The arrangement on future cases is unprecedented because glyphosate will remain on the market without a cancer warning, with the backing of the U.S. pesticides regulator.