10 Jun 2014

Top Berlin Airport Official Accused of Bribery

Barely six months into his contract as Head of Technology for the Berlin Brandenburg Airport (Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg GmbH (FBB)), Jochen Grossmann has been accused of demanding a half a million Euro bribe from a prospective contractor. This is only the latest in a long list of problems for the airport which is now estimated to be as much as €6 billion over budget and at least five years behind schedule (the FBB has actually declined to set a new opening date). Harmut Mehdorn, FBB CEO, has admitted that even more irregularities in the awarding of contracts could be found.

The notion that there might be more corruption in such a large-scale infrastructure project would come as no surprise to anti-corruption researchers. Indeed, recent research by the FP 7 ANTICORRP project showed that big infrastructural projects are prone to high levels of corruption. The concluding chapter of The Anticorruption Report Volume 1, Controlling Corruption in Europe stated: “Spending on new infrastructure projects, for example, allows the channelling of government resources to favourite companies either directly or through local or regional governments producing unnecessary outputs with high costs.”

While the corruption allegations are nothing new for a large infrastructure project, they are interesting in Germany which is usually held up as an example of good governance. The second chapter of the same ANTICORRP book placed Germany in a group of countries with relatively low risk of corruption, where control of corruption has largely been achieved and occasional incidences of corruption are handled successfully. Thus far, the case of the airport appears to be one where such incidences are being addressed quickly and publicly.

The FBB signed an Integrity Pact with Transparency Germany in 2005 and engaged local public procurement expert Professor Peter Oettel (Oettel is honorary professor at the Technical University Berlin and was former Head of the Department of Structural Policy for the city where he was responsible for overseeing public procurement) to work with TI in monitoring contract awarding for the airport. According to the FBB, this was the first time a German company took such a step, however, according to Transparency Germany; it took nearly a decade to convince the company to sign the pact.

The FBB also has an ombudswoman, an anti-corruption officer and an anti-corruption task force. The FBB reported the suspected corruption to public prosecutor in Neuruppin who then conducted a search of the office of two accused associates as well as the private premises of the chief suspect. The public prosecutor has described the situation as a “classic model of corruption in business dealings.” The task force is comprised of: legal experts, examiners from the FBB, outside legal experts, anti-corruption experts and a representative from Transparency International (TI) who will now review all the contracts awarded by Mr. Grossmann.

The bribery allegation against Mr. Grossmann, which emerged near the two-year anniversary of the cancelling of the open date, is the second publicised incident of corruption involving the airport in a little over a year. Last April, three men were charged with corruption after bribes were paid by firms wanting to secure airport contracts.

Corruption in public procurement will continue to be a key research focus for the ANTICORRP project, with the result of research on the impact of EU funds on control of corruption due later this year. A study released late last year by ANTICORRP researchers  Mihály Fazekas and István János Tóth compared public procurement processes involving EU funds and national funds in Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic and found that up to 1/3 of EU funds are touched by corruption.