Field day Dodgy Dealings Off the Soccer Pitch

Embezzled money from Dutch engineering and construction firm Imtech might have helped fund German soccer team VfR Aalen.
Those were the days, my friend: Former Imtech German chief Klaus Betz (left) and former VfR Aalen trainer Jürgen Kohler.

A corruption scandal at technical services provider Imtech has broadened to include a German soccer team.

German managers of the Dutch group are said to have embezzled money over several years, diverting it to VfR Aalen, a second-league German football club from the state of Baden-Württemberg.

The Hamburg public prosecutor’s office confirmed that it is currently dealing with a criminal case of this nature, but was unable to comment further.

This latest problem is just one of a series of difficulties for the Dutch company, which employs 30,000 people and reports incomes of €5 billion, or $6.2 billion. An investigation in 2013 revealed accounting discrepancies of several hundred million euros.

Imtech's books had to be retroactively – and dramatically – rebalanced; its stock market value dropped by more than €2 billion. The company has had to raise capital from shareholders twice since then, collecting €1.1 billion. It is currently valued at around €400 million.

Two weeks ago, Handelsblatt and a Dutch newspaper reported RWE, Germany's largest electricity producer, may be the victim of a cartel involving Imtech and its suppliers.

It's impossible for us to know under what conditions donations are made. Berndt-Ulrich Scholz, President, VfR Aalen football club

Joint research by Handelsblatt and the Dutch daily newspaper "De Telegraaf" revealed that the person involved is the former chairman of the supervisory board of VfR Aalen, Johannes Moser. Mr. Moser was the boss of the main branch of Imtech in Aalen for 13 years and subsequently the director of Imtech’s south-west Germany region.

Over the course of his career he was responsible for revenues of €8.5 billion. There have been business relationships between Imtech and the VfR Aalen for many years – until recently, the company sponsored the club to the tune of around €2 million per season. But some of the individuals allegedly felt this was not enough and apparently constructed an illegal system of funding.

According to company insiders, an Imtech manager asked a third-party company, with which they had a business relationship, to issue fake invoices. When the invoice arrived, Imtech transferred the agreed sum for work which was never done. The recipient then transferred this money on – each transfer was for a five- or six-digit sum – as a donation to VfR Aalen.

The club issued a receipt for the donation, which the third-party firm then submitted as part of its next tax return.

Mr. Moser could not be reached for comment. His wife said on the phone that her husband was no longer involved with the club and that all questions should be directed to Imtech.

Imtech also declined to make a statement and referred to the firm's own investigations, stating that the accusations had been made by a whistleblower and were being addressed.

There is still a dispute about €1.7 million, which ex-Imtech manager, Mr. Betz, supposedly agreed to pay, but has not.

The president of the soccer club VfR Aalen, Berndt-Ulrich Scholz, said he knew nothing about these business dealings. "It's impossible for us to know under what conditions donations are made," he said. He added that he had not signed any receipts for donations.

Mr. Scholz said he also knew nothing of further irregularities documented in dozens of invoices obtained by Handelsblatt and De Telegraaf; these show payments of €50,646 for a training camp, €34,510 for hotel rooms, €10,885 for seat cushions and balls. All are items which should have been paid for by the soccer club. Instead, Imtech paid for them.

"I know nothing about that,” said Mr. Scholz. “In any case, the sponsoring sums agreed on were paid by Imtech to the VfR in instalments, as stipulated in the contract."

But Imtech did not just pay for training kits and camps. In April 2009, for example, more than €40,000 was paid to a company which represented Jürgen Kohler, the former soccer world championship medal winner who became a trainer in 2008, and then VfR's sports director. He resigned in May 2009.

The invoice for the “Jürgen Kohler representation contract” was made out to the former boss of Imtech in Germany, Klaus Betz. Mr. Betz also had a close relationship with the VfR soccer club and was still a member of its supervisory board when he was fired in February 2013. Mr. Betz declined to comment on VfR.

Mr. Betz has other problems, of course. Imtech has reported him to the public prosecutor’s office in Hamburg for, among other things, the embezzlement of many millions of euros. There is talk of a huge system of faked invoices and other irregularities, and investigations are ongoing.

The Imtech scandal was a burden for the VfR Aalen even before the new revelations. The club was in financial difficulties and fighting to keep its license. According to the club's president, Mr. Scholz, there is still a dispute about €1.7 million, which ex-Imtech manager, Mr. Betz, supposedly agreed to pay, but has not. Imtech declined to comment on the ongoing legal dispute.

The soccer club, VfR Aalen, was only able to keep its license because Mr. Scholz intervened and provided guarantees. Mr. Scholz, an entrepreneur, has been the anchor of the club for years and the stadium carries his name: the Scholz arena.

There are also numerous connections between the 75-year-old VfR president and Imtech.  One of his firms, for example, built the Imtech branch in Aalen and rented it to the company, at a very steep price, according to Imtech employees.

Mr. Scholz said the rent contract was legal and that everything "was done with a public notary.”

He said he had not spoken to former Imtech boss, Klaus Betz, for a long time and added that he thought it was a shame that Johannes Moser, who was elected an honorary member of the VfR last year, no longer attended the club’s games.

In September 2013 Mr. Moser left his job as director of Imtech.  Imtech's German executive, Jürgen Sautter, praised Mr. Moser as "Imtech’s rock." The 68-year-old Mr. Moser is still active for the company, and is taking care of Imtech’s interests as a consultant, advising on the building site of the new Berlin airport, which has been plagued by delays and additional costs.

 

Sönke Iwersen is editor in chief of Handelsblatt Live, and heads the investigative team. To contact the author: [email protected].