Deutsche Bahn defends itself against allegations of corruption

Major construction site Stuttgart 21

Deutsche Bahn rejects allegations of corruption in connection with the controversial mega-project.

(Photo: imago images / Arnulf Hettrich)

Frankfurt Deutsche Bahn defends itself against allegations that in 2016 it did not adequately investigate evidence from the workforce about corruption in connection with the Stuttgart 21 mega-construction project. The British “Financial Times” reported on the case on Thursday. According to this, executives are said to have misused company funds for fraud. “The case was investigated by our corporate security, none of the allegations could be confirmed,” said a spokesman for Deutsche Bahn.

The case has many facets. The employees who reported the case to group management are said to have been a clerk. The latter, according to the report of the “Financial Times”, received the notice of termination while the internal investigations were ongoing. The second “whistleblower” then broke off all contact with corporate security for fear of reprisals.

The railway presents the case a little differently. The employee was dismissed, but for completely different reasons. A labor court in Stuttgart this summer declared the dismissal to be legal and denied a connection between the dismissal and the internal investigations. Now the clerk has made claims for damages against the group a few days ago.

Stuttgart 21, the relocation of the station and the surrounding tracks underground, is one of the most controversial construction projects of Deutsche Bahn. There were and are still violent civil protests. Once put at construction costs of 2.5 billion euros, the new building will probably cost at least 8.2 billion euros, maybe even ten billion euros. The new main station will also open much later than planned, instead of 2025 in 2019.

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Projects of this size are chronically susceptible to corruption and fraud. In the long history of Stuttgart, for example, there have been 21 criminal complaints from two lawyers against the then rail boss Rüdiger Grube and his colleague on the board, Volker Kefer, as well as the current infrastructure director Roland Pofalla, but so far without further consequences. The accusation: The top managers would cause damage to the railway company because they were continuing the uneconomical project.

Protests against Stuttgart 21

The outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel has demonstrated behind Stuttgart 21 several times. “Because of the problems there, Stuttgart 21 in particular is under more scrutiny than almost any other project, both externally and internally,” said a spokesman for the Deutsche Bahn.

Deutsche Bahn has a long history and a lot of experience when it comes to compliance. In the past, cases of corruption have repeatedly come to light. Precisely because the control in a group with around 300 individual companies is extremely complex, the management established comprehensive internal controls many years ago.

A few years ago, she even broke legal requirements, for example with regard to data protection, in her internal investigations. Large quantities of emails from employees were compared with information from suppliers, a clear violation. That even cost the then CEO Hartmut Mehdorn the office. Since then, compliance has been revised again. With corporate security, the state-owned company now has an independent body.

In the past few years, this has repeatedly passed suspicious cases and its own investigation results to the public prosecutor. A few years ago, for example, the Frankfurt public prosecutor’s office investigated possible corruption offenses at the Deutsche Bahn subsidiary DB Energie and a partner company from Magdeburg. However, the proceedings were discontinued because the suspicion was not confirmed.

Again and again suspected cases in the past

In another case, the Frankfurt public prosecutor’s office investigated the suspicion that employees of DB International GmbH had given donations to decision-makers abroad, following relevant information from the group. The focus was on the activities in Algeria, Rwanda and Greece.

In order to get to the bottom of the matter, the group also commissioned the auditing company KPMG to conduct a special investigation. And finally took a hard line. The company withdrew from countries like Algeria, Libya, Rwanda and Thailand because doing business there is particularly susceptible to corruption. At that time, the company also parted with around 30 employees at the subsidiary DB International.

In the current Stuttgart 21 case, however, the internal investigators did not see sufficient evidence to hand it over to the public prosecutor. It remains to be seen whether the investigating authority will take action on the matter because of the new reports.

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