Controversial Decision Deutsche Bank's Inexplicable Airport Guarantee

Deutsche Bank faces uncomfortable questions about just why it provided a €25 million guarantee to a now bankrupt construction company over the disaster-hit Berlin Brandenberg Airport.
The Berlin Brandenburg Airport.

Deutsche Bank is well acquainted with its lawyers. It faces law suits on multiple fronts, and one of the more tricky ones is a €25 million guarantee it signed in December 2012 for the new Berlin Brandenberg Airport.

Now, over three years later, that document is at the heart of an investigation into corruption and bribery over the as yet unopened airport, which is now embarrasingly over budget and way over schedule.

The guarantee is related to Imtech, the now bankrupt construction company that worked on the Berlin Brandenburg Airport, and which asked the airport operator for a €25 million advance on payment.

Auditors looking into Imtech's accounts could not find any legitimate reason why Imtech needed the money up front. So Deutsche Bank agreed to take on the risk, guaranteeing a €25 million payment from Berlin Brandenburg Airport to Imtech.

The longer it went on the worse the situation became.

The guarantee became embarrassing shortly afterwards, when Imtech admitted financial irregularities, postponed the presentation of its balance sheet and fired the head of its German division. The group declared bankruptcy in August 2015 and was broken up.

The situation has since become even more complicated.  Recently the prosecutor for the town of  Neuruppin in Brandenberg has focused on that €25 million transfer. Imtech is accused of paying a bribe of €150,000 to speed up the transfer. Investigators have charged three former Imtech managers and a former airport department head on suspicion of bribery and corruption.

The guarantee from Deutsche Bank is also still valid and can be called in at any moment.

None of the parties involved are prepared to fully explain just what happened. Deutsche Bank declined to comment on the guarantee. A onetime Imtech manager didn’t want to explain how the company was able to convince Deutsche Bank to make the guarantee, saying only "that was higher bank policy."

Klaus Nieding of the Deutsche Schutzvereinigung für Wertpapierbesitz e.V., an association for private investors, told Handelsblatt there may well be legal questions to answer.

"I assume that Deutsche Bank had a reasonable contractual basis for this guarantee," he said  "In the worst case, that would be a misappropriation of shareholder assets.”

Massimo Bognanni is a member of Handelsblatt’s investigative reporting team. To contact the author: [email protected]