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Mystery Deepens

DW staff (sp)
May 29, 2008

A probe into a major spying scandal at Deutsche Telekom escalated on Thursday with prosecutors raiding the company's offices and launching investigations against two former bosses of Europe's biggest phone company.

Two technicians carrying a large Telekom sign
The revelation of a spying scandal may tarnish Deutsche Telekom's reputationImage: picture-alliance / dpa

In a new twist to an escalating privacy scandal engulfing Deutsche Telekom, German prosecutors said on Thursday, May 28, they had opened investigations against two former bosses at the company and raided the offices of the beleaguered telecommunications giant, based in Bonn.

"Since this morning, there have been investigative procedures" at the Deutsche Telekom offices, said a spokesman for the prosecutor's office in Bonn.

Klaus Zumwinkel
Zumwinkel was in the news recently for tax evasionImage: AP

State prosecutors also confirmed to news agency DPA that they had launched investigations against former Telekom CEO Kai-Uwe Ricke and the former chairman of Deutsche Telekom's supervisory board, Klaus Zumwinkel.

In addition, labor representatives on Telekom's supervisory board also said on Thursday that they were pressing charges against Europe's largest phone company for serious breaches of privacy and trust.

"We want to contribute to the clarification of the affair and at the same time to protect the reputation of the company," said Lothar Schroeder, vice president of the supervisor board.

Cameras in the newsroom

Deutsche Telekom was forced to concede over the weekend that it had hired an outside firm to surreptitiously track hundreds of thousands of phone calls by senior executives and journalists to identify the source of leaks to the news media about the company's internal affairs.

Entscheidung über Veröffentlichung von BND-Spitzelbericht
FTD said Deutsche Telekom had snooped on its reporters using secret cameras in the newsroomImage: picture-alliance / dpa/dpaweb

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 labor representatives at the company.

Deutsche Telekom said the "ill-advised use of communications data" happened in 2005 and probably 2006 and has to date admitted only to spying on German business magazine Capital.

But on Thursday, another business newspaper, Financial Times Deutschland alleged it was a victim of espionage by Deutsche Telekom several years earlier. The daily said Deutsche Telekom had hired private detectives to spy on its reporters in 2000 and had even secretly filmed the newsroom.

"Their main target was the FTD's chief reporter at the time, Tasso Enzweiler, who often broke stories about the telecommunication sector," the paper said. "The private detectives even used a hidden camera to try and get information about Enzweiler's source from the news room in Cologne."

Both the FTD and Capital belong to the publishing house Gruner und Jahr, which is in turn owned by German media giant Bertelsmann. The publisher has warned that it is considering both criminal and civil charges against Deutsche Telekom.

Pressure grows on Obermann

Deutsche Telekom has insisted that the surveillance did not involve listening in to phone conversations but rather tracking calls made by members of the supervisory board to certain numbers. The job of tracking the calls was outsourced to a data-mining company in Berlin.

Rene Obermann, Deutsche Telekom CEO
Obermann is under rising pressure to shed light on the snooping affairImage: Picture-Alliance /dpa

Telekom's current CEO, Rene Obermann, who is under growing pressure to clear up the affair but who was not in charge at the time of the spying affair, has said state prosecutors and a law firm in Cologne were investigating the affair. He also stressed that Deutsche Telekom clients were not being wiretapped.

The "personal data of our millions of fixed-line and mobile clients was secure," he told Germany's top-selling newspaper Bild.

The Telekom spying scandal has however shaken Germany where privacy is a particularly sensitive issue ever since the state-sanctioned snooping of the Nazi and Communist regimes.

It is also the latest in a string of privacy invasion scandals to hit a major German company.

Earlier this year, it emerged that discount food retailer Lidl had hired detectives to install micro-cameras that filmed employees while at work and on their breaks.

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