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Spying Scandal

DW staff (th)February 2, 2009

Employee unions and politicians have stepped up calls for German rail chairman Hartmut Mehdorn to offer a thorough explanation and apology for a spying scandal at Deutsche Bahn.

Conductor outside train
Deutsche Bahn denies that it spied on employeesImage: AP

The admission by Germany's Deutsche Bahn that the company had secretly monitored, or "vetted," more than half of its workforce requires a much more thorough explanation than the company has given up until now, said Transnet rail union head Alexander Kirchner.

A simple "sorry" from Bahn CEO Mehdorn won't cut it, Kirchner told Info Radio on Monday, Feb. 2. The unions want to understand in detail exactly what happened and who was responsible, Kirchner said.

The heads of various Deutsche Bahn unions planned to discuss the issue on Monday. The stakes are high for Mehdorn. The powerful executive's job is reportedly on the line, according to a Monday report in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

"If the labor representative on the board of directors expresses mistrust, it's all over for him," the newspaper said.

Bahn said it didn't break the law

Deutsche Bahn head Hartmut Mehdorn
Unions want more than a mere apology from MehdornImage: AP

"Mr. Mehdorn should apologize as soon as possible to employees," Social Democratic Party's Peter Struck, a supporter of Mehdorn, told the television station ARD on Sunday.

Mehdorn has said that neither he, the company's management or the board of directors knew anything about the affair.

Deutsche Bahn admitted last week that a security company it had hired vetted some 173,000 rail employees as part of an anti-corruption campaign back in 2002 and 2003. Deutsche Bahn has denied that it was spying on its employees.

"Contrary to many assertions, there is nothing wrong with comparing employee and supplier addresses, or so-called 'screening', regardless of the number of vetted employees," said Deutsche Bahn spokesperson Oliver Schumacher said last week.

Union, politicians want answers

Man with suitcase full of money
Deutsche Bahn says it was trying to stop corruptionImage: BilderBox

Transnet and GDBA unions have criticized the company for not providing clear explanations. In a joint statement, the unions called on Deutsche Bahn to give a more detailed account at a special board meeting.

"We expect management to inform the workers" who have been spied on, the unions added in a statement released over the weekend.

A company hired by Deutsche Bahn collected information such as addresses, telephone numbers and banking information and compared it with a list of 80,000 companies that do business with Deutsche Bahn. The goal of the surveillance was to uncover any areas where bribes could have been paid in exchange for contracts, according to participants at a closed-door meeting of parliament's transportation committee last week.

Apparently, 100 cases of impropriety turned up, although there is no word on whether any employees were found to be corrupt.

The parliamentary transportation committee will meet next week to further discuss the issue. Some politicians have voiced concerns that Deutsche Bahn was illegally trying to pinpoint those employees who were critical of the company.