Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Bundeswehr Accused of Deleting Secret Intelligence Files

Secret German military and intelligence files from 1998 to 2003 were reported to have gone missing due to technical malfunction, according to German media reports, leaving some to wonder if they were deleted on purpose.

A German parliamentary committee received a new answer to its request to see a set of classified military files from 2002: A "technical failure" led the data over the four-year span to be irrecoverably destroyed, German public broadcaster ARD reported Monday.

Information regarding four years worth of information sent back from military troops stationed in Afghanistan and Kosovo, the Federal Intelligence Agency, military attaches and foreign intelligence services is thought to be among the data destroyed at the Defense Ministry's Center for Bundeswehr Communications, according to the ARD report.

Details of possible German involvement in a secret US-run prison in Bosnia, where terror suspects were allegedly interrogated before and after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, are also missing, according to a report in Tuesday's daily Berliner Zeitung.

"That the information is gone has probably made things easier for some of the people who where were in charge back then," an anonymous security expert told the paper.

Destroyed in accordance with regulations

Bernhard Docke, a lawyer for Murat Kurnaz, a German-born Turk who was held without charges for five years at the US prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, told the dpa news agency that he suspected data about his client was intentionally deleted.

However, he added that he had enough information to file charges of abuse against members of the German military who allegedly interrogated Kurnaz.

In a letter to a parliamentary committee, Deputy Defense Minister Peter Wichert wrote that the data was transferred to a single set of tapes that could later not be read.

"An attempt to read the tapes in a replacement device to restore the data failed," he wrote. "In accordance with the current regulations dealing with the classified material, the no longer readable tapes were destroyed on July 4, 2005."

German politicians, however, were skeptical of the defense ministry's statement that the technical failure and limited memory capacity in the system tasked with saving the intelligence reports made the lost information irretrievable.

'Smells of premediatation'

Green party politician Hans-Christian Ströbele, who is a member of the intelligence services' parliamentary oversight committee, said he received a letter from Wichert in November in which there was "no mention of the data being gone," Ströble told the Neue Presse on Tuesday.

"Sometimes the answer was that I can't have the information, sometimes the answer was that the KSK (an elite Germany military unit) wasn't involved in the activities," Ströbele said of other information requests he had made. "The answer was never: 'We do not have the information.'"

Intelligence service expert Erich Schmidt-Eenboom said the defense ministry's decision not to request the help of other government departments or data retrieval specialists "smells of premeditation.

"There is the Federal Criminal Police Office and several highly specialized companies that have long been in a position to save and reconstitute damaged data storage devices," he told the Berliner Zeitung.

DW staff (sms)

Deutsche Welle 06/2007

Monday, June 25, 2007

Air Berlin Executives Accused of Insider Trading

German prosecutors said on Tuesday that they had raided the homes and offices of top executives of German low-cost carrier Air Berlin as part of an investigation into possible insider trading.

About 50 police officers and employees of the financial sector watchdog BaFin had searched a total of 10 premises in Berlin, Stuttgart, Munich, Düsseldorf and Langenfeld on Tuesday morning as part of the probe, the Stuttgart public prosecutors said in a statement.

The investigation centered on at least five officials, including chief executive Joachim Hunold, and supervisory board head Johannes Zurnieden, they added. The insider trading allegations are connected with Air Berlin's takeover of rival airline DBA last year.

"There is a suspicion that the accused made use of insider knowledge over the planned takeover of a Munich-based airline by a Berlin-based airline," the prosecutors' statement said.

Effect on stock price was unclear

The company officials are suspected of having bought around 1.5 million euros ($2.0 million) of Air Berlin shares in June 2006, shortly after having signed a confidentiality agreement and just before takeover talks began.

Hunold and Zurnieden are suspected of having bought 1.47 million euros worth of shares alone, the prosecutors said.

Hunold, a media-savvy businessman who has led the airline's rapid expansion, confirmed he was among those named in the inquiry and issued a statement denying the allegations.

"There was no knowing how much or even if the share price of Air Berlin would rise after the announcement," he said. "I first bought shares at the start of June 2006 when a lock-up period imposed on me under stock-exchange rules had expired."

He said all the purchases had been duly reported to financial regulators and disclosed online.

"Absurd inquiry"

Air Berlin spokesman Peter Hauptvogel added that the shares were bought well before Air Berlin decided to buy DBA, a move that sent the Berlin airline's stocks soaring.

Hauptvogel, who said searches were also made at the homes of the suspects, described the inquiry as "absurd," adding that it involved relatively modest sums of money.

Air Berlin, Germany's second largest airline after Lufthansa, acquired DBA in August 2006 in a bid to take on flag carrier Lufthansa in the fierce battle for domination in the skies above Germany.

DW staff (sms)

Deutsche Welle 06/2007

Friday, March 30, 2007

"Internal Corruption Remains a Problem in the European Union"

Dutch MEP and former assistant auditor of the Financial Control Directorate Paul van Buitenen was the whistleblower who brought down the EU Commission in 1999. He talked to DW-WORLD.DE about current corruption in the EU.

Paul van Buitenen, a Dutch MEP in the European Parliament and former assistant auditor of the Financial Control Directorate, believes that the fight against corruption in Europe has made little progress since new initiatives were set up in the wake of the EU's biggest scandal which brought down the Commission in 1999.

DW-WORLD: Is there structural corruption in the EU?

Paul van Buitenen: The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) has had success in combating external corruption in the member states, but it is in the internal cases where it has found problems. Working with the EU authorities makes it very difficult to proceed in an investigation. Officially, OLAF is an independent body, but it functions within the EU Commission; in the commission building, on the commission's computer network and works with commission investigators. OLAF's independence exists only on paper.

Which of the EU organizations are especially susceptible to corruption?

OLAF has investigated the European Commission for Regional Policy and has confirmed through investigation that corruption has taken place there over a number of years. The commission works with local and municipal bodies in the member states and encourages them engage with Brussels. However, no important decisions are made on the recommendation of the committee so once could basically abolish the organization completely and save the EU some 70 million euros ($93.4 million). Plus, some members have been shown to have unexplained extra salaries and OLAF has discovered a number of discrepancies in reports. Every time the committee is approached about corruption, it promises to improve the situation. But then a new case arises.

How is the situation in the EU parliament?

There is corruption, but these are special cases. There are always conflicts of interests everywhere. If someone sits on the supervisory board of a big automobile company, that person should not write in the European Parliament guidelines on subjects like fuel or manufacture. But I do not go around the building with a camera to see what my colleagues do. I concentrate on the big deception cases and irregularities with European implications.

Which new measures would be necessary to fight against corruption?

In some states, like Germany or Holland, controlling possibilities already exist; there are independent judicial authorities and a strong parliament. At a European level, however, there is not a democracy, but a bureaucracy. We must decide if we are to continue with the European arrangement. If we do, then we must also create these democratic structures at European level. Otherwise we should revert to allowing the national authorities and parliaments to take over the controlling functions again. But at the moment, as it stands, everything goes wrong.

When you uncovered the EU Commission scandal in 1999 which brought down the commission, you were punished. Has the situation changed?

I would say: Things have got even worse. There is now a regulation which supposedly protects so-called whistleblowers which makes officials believe that they can uncover scandals. But in reality, if one does this, they are destroyed. So the regulation does not work. If a committee official, like in the 1999 case, is suspected of corruption, he is moved to another department at the beginning of the inquiries so he can no longer carry out those activities -- but he continues to be employed and still gets his salary. But if people like me sound the alarm, we are suspended and sometimes have our salary halved. Something is not right here.

Dennis Stute interviewed Paul van Buitenen, representative of the Europe Transparent anti-corruption party in the European Parliament.

Deutsche Welle 03/2007