Bribery probe hits Berlin's scandal airport
Berlin's disastrous airport project was hit with another scandal on Wednesday after its technical director was suspended pending an investigation into alleged corruption.
A "leading employee" responsible for awarding contracts during the on-going construction of the hopelessly-delayed Berlin Brandenburg airport (BER), is suspected of having demanded €500,000 bribes from a prospective contractor, the airport management said on Tuesday in a statement.
While they stopped short of naming the accused employee, German press reports named technical director Jochen Großmann, as the manager being investigated. News agency dpa said on Wednesday he had been suspended.
The airport confirmed it had been alerted to the alleged bribery incident "after conversations with a representative of an international company operating in the technical planning branch" and had informed the state prosecutor in Neuruppin.
Investigators searched Großmann's office in Düsseldorf on Tuesday, confiscating evidence which is now being examined to determine whether there are grounds for a charge, prosecutor Frank Winter told broadcaster RBB.
Until now the airport management had not gone public with the information, airport boss Hartmut Mehdorn said in the statement, because the truth of the accusations had not yet been established.
"We did not immediately make the affair public because we did not want to wrongfully accuse the employee," explained Mehdorn. "We wanted to wait until the prosecutor had confirmed that there were grounds for a charge."
Among Großmann's responsibilities was sorting out the critical fire safety problems initially blamed for the airport's failure to open on schedule in June 2012.
Großmann took over from predecessor Horst Amann, who was dismissed in October last year.
And in another blow to the reputation of the airport, Bild newspaper reported on Wednesday that Amann will continue to receive his annual salary of €300,000 a year until his contract ends in 2017, despite no longer doing the job.
In March this year, German press reported that by last November just three percent of the ill-fated airport's 10,000 m2 terminal was problem-free amid spiraling costs.
The whole project could now cost as much as €8bn and open in 2017.
The airport states on its website that it is "committed" to greater transparency "and corruption prevention in the company".
But it is the second bribery scandal in a little over a year to hit the airport. Last April three men, including the head of the Märkische sewage association, were charged with corruption after bribes were paid by firms wanting to secure airport contracts.