Corruption scandal Warnings Unheeded at Berlin's Airport

Internal documents in the bribery scandal surrounding Berlin's new airport show warnings were given but went unheeded about the level of payments to the now bankrupt construction contractor Imtech.
Investigators are looking closely into the beleagured BER airport, much delayed and with costs far above initial estimates.

 

In the corruption scandal around Berlin's new airport, questions have opened up about invoices paid by former chief operating officer Horst Amman to Imtech, the now insolvent construction contractor.

Berlin's new airport has been repeatedly delayed, the costs of the project have continued to rise and a stream of revelations suggest problematic dealings which have yet to be fully uncovered.

Documents now show that warnings were given about the level of payments to Imtech, the Dutch construction company, but went unheeded.

An e-mail sent by the inhouse counsel at Berlin Brandenburg airport (BER) on December 6, 2012 at 9:31 a.m. said of Imtech's invoice for €33 million, or $36 million, only €18 million was justified – by even the most generous standards.

Horst Amann wrote back less than 24 hours later, stating the payment should go ahead, otherwise there was a risk of not meeting the construction deadline.

Mr. Amann, the airport's chief technology officer and construction supervisor, wrote back at 8:01 a.m. on December 7, said he was concerned that if they did not pay Imtech's bill in full, the company might abandon the project.

The invoice was for prepayments on yet to be commissioned requests on already delivered services, and any overpayments will be taken into consideration in the final invoice. Unnamed spokesperson for BER airport consortium

An investigation in spring 2015 led to the arrest of one of Mr. Amann's managers for inflated payments to Imtech.

The public prosecutor's office investigated the manager who is believed to have pushed for the payment of inflated Imtech invoices and in return supposedly received €150,000 in cash. After he was taken into custody, investigators found a large sum of cash in his safe.

The prosecutor's office has already filed charges against the manager, plus three managers from Imtech, for corruption, in some cases particularly severe corruption. Several suspects have confessed.

Mr. Amann long stated that he was an onlooker in the case. But the internal records show he disregarded the warnings, failed to inform the non-executive supervisory board about the payments, and approved the Imtech transfer.

Mr. Amman addressed the supervisory board on December 7, 2012, 90 minutes after he had responded to the legal department.

The board was expected to wave through further cost increases, but they balked. They were particularly suspicious of paragraph 2 of the proposed resolution – precisely the €33 million that Mr. Amann wanted to transfer to Imtech.

Mr Amann defended the payment as “initial funding,” to ensure enough workers would be on site, critically important if they were going to be able to open the airport on October 27, 2013.

As the supervisory board probed further, Mr. Amann said the payments were for services which had already been delivered.

From the minutes of the meeting, he seems not to have given any mention of the warnings made by the legal adviser about the payments.

The sum that was transferred to Imtech though, was less than the €33 million; Mr. Amann approved a transfer of just €25 million, still €7 million more than the BER auditors could see as justified.

Even so, Mr. Amann wasn't able to ensure the airport would be operational by October 2013. In the same year, after a power struggle with the new BER chief, Hartmut Mehdorn, Mr. Amann was told to leave.

In August 2015, Imtech declared bankruptcy and was broken up.

The Imtech payments have become a subject of increasing interest for state prosecutors, who are investigating the sums Mr. Amann called "initial funding."

One day after Mr. Amann signed off the Imtech invoice, at an autobahn rest stop, his manager met with an Imtech manager who apparently handed over an envelope with €150,000 in it. The two men went their separate ways. A few days later, the €25 million landed on Imtech's account.

But there's a hole in this reconstruction of the deal. The state prosecutor's office was informed of this via an anonymous note. The writer was clearly an insider, able to name names and give specific dates. But the whistleblower named €2 million as the bribe amount, not €150,000. Investigators haven't been able to locate the main part of the bribe money.

Quelle: dpa
Mr. Amann, the former chief of construction at Berlin's long-delayed airport.
(Source: dpa)

Mr Amann has told the committee investigating the scandals and delays at the airport that he first heard of possible bribery in 2013. He has not said why he ignored the warnings from the legal team, or why he approved the multi-million euro transfer.

Mr. Amann's lawyer says that the airport consortium hasn't released him from his confidentiality agreement.

There are further open questions.

According to an audit report to January 2015, Imtech had delivered services worth just €7 million; that is, not even a third the worth of the invoice which Imtech put in at the end of 2012. BER's internal records show that, unlike originally claimed, the invoice also contained services not yet delivered. Neither the airport operator, FBB, nor Imtech, will comment on the figures.

The question remains for FBB why millions in taxpayer funds have been paid out in such transactions. The millions transferred in December 2012 were invoiced as “prepayments on yet to be commissioned requests on already delivered services,” an airport spokesman told Handelsblatt. Because the claims have not yet been examined, the spokesman said, “any overpayments will be taken into consideration in the final invoice.”

There may be further payments to come related to the case.

On December 18, 2012, Deutsche Bank gave Imtech a guarantee on the €25 million, so if the airport operator, FBB wants its money back, it will come from Deutsche Bank. Yet, three years after Imtech failed to deliver the services in questions, and long after the construction firm's liquidation, the guarantee has not been acted upon. FBB says it is still examining the legal requirements.

092 BER Airport - Neu 2016-03-07-01

 

Massimo Bognanni is an investigative reporter for Handelsblatt. To contact the author: [email protected]