Hamburg Bank Scandal Ex-Government Spokesman Spread Child Porn Investigation Rumors

A former government spokesman for the city-state of Hamburg has become entangled in a child porn scandal. He has admitted to spreading rumors about a manager at the New York branch of HSH Nordbank who the company's chief executive apparently wanted to get rid of.

HSH Nordbank chief Dirk Jens Nonnenmacher
REUTERS

HSH Nordbank chief Dirk Jens Nonnenmacher

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Ludwig Rademacher is a well-known man in business circles in Germany. He was previously the spokesman for the city-state government in Hamburg, under Mayor Ortwin Runde of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). Today he is self-employed and works as a crisis manager. In other words, he is paid to solve crises -- not to start them.

But there is much evidence that Rademacher did just that. The communications professional played a dubious role in an ongoing scandal at HSH Nordbank, a regional bank operated by the states of Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein that has been shaken by the financial crisis.

It appears as if the work of the former Hamburg government spokesman contributed to the dirtiest of the many scandals plaguing the bank -- and one that has crossed both sides of the Atlantic. Rademacher's "research results" (his words) were the reasons that suspicions were raised that the head of the New York branch of HSH had been collecting child pornography -- a charge that the local district attorney there is now convinced is baseless.

A False Trail of Child Pornography

For months now, prosecutors in the United States have been investigating HSH chief Dirk Jens Nonnenmacher, who they believe wanted to fire branch chief Roland K. in 2009 -- if possible, without severance. They have also been looking at Wolfgang Gössmann, the bank's in-house counsel, and the security firm Prevent, which served HSH. From the looks of things, Rademacher did a lot more than just publicity work for the company. Nonnenmacher, Gössmann, and the Prevent man are all suspected of having worked together to create a false trail of child pornography, a charge that each vehemently denies.

The way in which the bank came to the idea to raid Roland K.'s office in September 2009, to search for child pornography, is detailed in a secret report prepared for HSH by the American law firm WilmerHale, which SPIEGEL has seen.

According to the report, bank chief Nonnenmacher already met with Prevent's boss, Thorsten Mehles, in June in Mehles' Hamburg office. Nonnenmacher at that time claimed to have been informed by Mehles that Roland K. was being investigated in the United States by the FBI on suspicions that he possessed child pornography.

When WilmerHale pressed Mehles about how he could have known that, he gave a name that only appeared in an encrypted form in the report. In the meantime, however, the puzzle has been solved: The anonymous person is Rademacher.

Vague Statements and References?

Rademacher has in fact admitted that he was the source of the information about the alleged US investigation. But he claims that he, at most, talked about the issue in vague terms and hints. What is certain, though, is that he later repeated the same claims about the investigation into K. in writing in an August 2009 report to Mehles, a move that the Prevent boss confirms.

And where did Rademacher's insider knowledge of an investigation in far away New York come from? From journalists, he told WilmerHale. In conversations with the lawyers he declined to name names. Nor did he provide any proof that such rumors had really been circulating. If they were, then they were certainly false -- because there was no FBI investigation into child pornography at the time.

And that's how a suspected plot ran its course. Indeed, it probably suited the bank's purposes well that, during the raid, the pertinent photos were found that had apparently been planted earlier in an e-mail to Roland K. After all, it would mean they could avoid expensive legal procedures in getting rid of a manager they no longer wanted -- and they wouldn't have to pay any severance. According to the WilmerHale report, management were determined to get rid of the New York branch manager. But, in fact, they faced legal difficulties in doing so.

'The Conditions for Termination Were Given'

Nevertheless, HSH chief in-house counsel Gössmann, who has since been let go by the bank, claims there were plenty of reasons to fire Roland K. -- and with cause. He says that a US law firm has concluded that "the conditions for termination were given," even without the porno pictures on the computer. In truth, though, the firm -- Latham & Watkins -- was shaky in its expertise. The remaining accusations its attorneys had collected against Roland K. were relatively thin.

They included a previously published report from the auditors at PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) probing alleged expense report fraud and supposedly overly careless dealings through internal e-mail -- all claims that Roland K. has strongly denied. PWC wrote that there was evidence that "it might qualify as a violation of HSH Nordbank guidelines." But no proof is provided for either of the claims.

The labor law firm of Latham & Watkins is cautious to say, as things stand, that it looks as if there was enough information for a firing. Alleged sexual escapades did not make the case any more convicing or increase the chances of success: "In our judgement, the current record is not sufficiently clear to form a conclusion, as a matter of law, that Mr. K. has engaged in 'sexual or other unlawful harassment' as those terms are defined under US federal and New York state law," the firm stated in a report.

According to WilmerHale, that's how two of the four HSH board members who were rounded up by Nonnenmacher on Sept. 17, 2009, to approve K.'s firing, saw things. Peter Rieck and Bernhard Visker bristled over having too few tangible reasons for an instant dismissal. If one is to believe WilmerHale, then the opponents were quickly eliminated. US law firm Latham & Watkins had advised that, because the two had worked closely together with Roland K., they might be biased in favor of him. Hence Nonnenmacher managed to transform the stalemate into a victory. Rieck and Visker abstained in the decision, and the fourth board member, Jochen Friedrich, voted with Nonnenmacher.

Right after that, the raid began in New York.

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