The embattled boss of Deutsche Telekom has distanced himself from the snooping scandal, which targeted news leaks from inside the firm to journalists, by blaming "a few bad apples" at Germany's national phone company.
Deutsche Telekom claims that it handles customers' data in a safe manner
"I can assure our clients: Their data is safe with Deutsche Telekom," Rene Obermann said in an interview for Bild am Sonntag newspaper, published on Sunday. "The misbehavior of a few bad apples in the past does not change this fact. Our staff does good and proper work."
Deutsche Telekom conceded earlier this week that it had hired an outside firm to surreptitiously track hundreds of thousands of phone calls in 2005 and perhaps also 2006 by senior executives and journalists to identify the source of leaks to the news media about the company's internal affairs.
The disclosure, prompted by a report on the Web site of news magazine Der Spiegel, has sparked a storm of protest in Germany among privacy advocates, politicians and company labor representatives.
I didn't do it
Obermann denied any personal involvement in the affair
Obermann denied that he was personally involved in the escalating privacy sandal engulfing Europe's largest telecommunications business.
"I learnt of a first case of data abuse at Deutsche Telekom last summer and did not hide anything, but drew the necessary personal and organizational consequences."
"Everything else was put in the hands of the prosecutors investigating the matter," said Obermann, who took up his post in November 2006.
Der Spiegel reported on Sunday on it Web site that one payment to private detectives hired to track calls by executives to journalists was authorized by an office manager who worked for both Obermann and Klaus Zumwinkel, the former head of the company's supervisory board.
Responding to the report, Obermann said: "If this is the case, it happened without my knowledge."
"I neither saw such an account nor signed off on it. At the time, I had only been in my post for a few days," he said.
Privacy is a sensitive issue in Germany
Prosecutors investigating the case raided Deutsche Telekom's Bonn headquarters on Thursday.
They also confirmed that an investigation has been launched against Zumwinkel and former Telekom CEO Kai-Uwe Ricke.
The disclosure of the affair has sparked an outcry in Germany, where privacy is a particularly sensitive issue ever since the state-sanctioned snooping of the Nazi and Communist regimes.
The German government demanded on Friday that the various telecommunications companies introduce self-regulation to prevent any repeats of the 2005 privacy breach at the country's biggest phone company.
A government meeting in Berlin on Monday with the companies' chiefs will initiate a dialogue about how the industry can improve compliance with privacy laws, an Interior Ministry spokeswoman said.