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  • Konrad Werner: German business is dodgy as hell


Konrad Werner: German business is dodgy as hell

The German media used the week to report on the increasingly idiotic row between the Greek and German governments. Meanwhile, two major German companies were punished for corruption charges.

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Siemens’ headquarters, Munich. Photo by Florian Adler (Flickr CC)

This week, the row between Greece and Germany became even more childish. You could sense the relief among the news outlets, because instead of having to explain the euro debt crisis again, they could report on Greek and German politicians bickering in that pointlessly furious and wounded way that children do.

It went like this: Wolfgang Schäuble said that Yanis Varoufakis was “foolishly naive”. Greece started crying and, through bitter tears, replied, “Well, at least we didn’t do the Holocaust – speaking of which, you still haven’t paid for it.” Then Germany started crying. The German media was delighted that the politicians had turned themselves into a cartoon. Phew, a lot easier to explain this than why the ECB is flooding the financial markets with fake money instead of helping the Greek economy or improving Europe’s infrastructure.

Another thing the German media didn’t feel like reporting on this week were two court decisions. In Greece, judges finally capped a 10-year investigation into bribery at one of Germany’s biggest companies, Siemens, by deciding that 64 people were going to stand trial, including 13 Germans. Back in 1998, the perennially dodgy company Siemens, a company once responsible for one of the biggest corporate scandals in history, paid the equivalent of €70 million in bribes to win a contract to digitize Greece’s phone network. Since the scandal came out a decade ago, one Greek ex-minister Tasos Mantelis, was convicted after he admitted that he accepted 450,000 DM from Siemens between 1998 and 2000, and now the head of Siemens Greece at the time, Michalis Christoforakos, who was briefly arrested in Munich, is on the list of people being indicted. Much like with Greece’s debt row, it takes two sides to deal irresponsibly with vast sums of money.

Then on Thursday, Germany’s second-biggest bank Commerzbank made an out-of-court settlement with United States authorities, paying $1.45 billion and promising to sack some of its more criminal bankers. This was because Commerzbank broke sanction laws by making deals with blacklisted Iranian companies and laundering the money through the US. “When there was profit to be made, Commerzbank turned a blind eye to its anti-money laundering compliance responsibilities,” US regulator Benjamin Lawsky said in the New York Times. The German press reported all this, but no one in the German media seems interested in looking into why these huge respected German companies keep getting charged with corruption.

Instead, we had miles of internet space devoted to a wearying playground row about the Holocaust again, and the corruption in Germany’s business culture went mainly ignored again. Another normal news week.