ATHENS: Siemens, Daimler, Rheinmetall — the cream of German industry — have been mired in cases of alleged corruption in Greece, the country that Berlin has repeatedly admonished for the parlous state of its economy.
No date has been set yet for 19 former executives of German engineering group Siemens to appear in Greek court, but it is expected to be one of the biggest financial trials of the decade in Greece.
More than 60 people in total are being investigated for corruption in the case that US watchdog CorpWatch has labeled “the greatest corporate scandal in Greece’s postwar history.”
Bavaria-based Siemens, whose links to Greece go back to the 19th century, is suspected of having greased the palms of various officials to clinch one of the country’s most lucrative contracts — the vast upgrade of the Greek telephone network in the late 1990s.
Overall, Siemens allegedly spent 70 million euros ($78 million) on bribes in Greece, according to Greek judicial sources.
The investigation is now in its ninth year with a case brief over 2,300 pages long.
Contacted by AFP, a Siemens spokesman at company headquarters in Munich said: “We don’t comment on that case.”
Relations between Athens and Berlin — already tested by the Greek economic crisis and Germany’s insistence on painful austerity to bail out the debt-wracked country — have not been helped by the Siemens case.
Earlier this year, Greece’s combative parliament speaker Zoe Constantopoulou said the affair smacked of double standards on the part of Berlin.
“This is a question of justice that shows there is doublespeak by Germany,” she told France’s Liberation newspaper in a recent interview.
“German companies have notoriously engaged in corrupt practices in Greece but such cases are only occasionally investigated,” the German Foreign Policy think-tank said in a recent report.
Siemens only the latest
For automaker Daimler, Greek justice opened an investigation earlier this year on suspicion of bribery in the award of a 100-million-euro military vehicle contract.
Krauss Maffei Wegmann, the makers of the German Leopard tank, was also placed under investigation in Munich.
Meanwhile, fellow defense contractor Rheinmetall in 2012 was fined 37 million euros by a court in Bremen, Germany, over a bribery case involving the sale of its anti-aircraft defense system for 150 million euros.