The growing spying scandal swirling around German telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom may be even bigger than previously thought. Indeed, according to a German financial paper, the company may have placed journalists and managers under surveillance as far back as 2000.
More spying allegations have been levelled against German telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom on Thursday.Foto: REUTERS
A report in the Financial Times Deutschland on Thursday says that Telekom hired the Berlin detective firm Desa to help find out how company information was being leaked to the press. Of particular concern, the paper writes, was a Financial Times Deutschland reporter named Tasso Enzweiler, who at the beginning of the decade often published exclusive reports about Deutsche Telekom. The private detectives, according to the report, even used hidden cameras in an effort to figure out who Enzweiler's source was.
The accusations follow allegations that the company systematically spied on management level employees and journalists from 2005 to 2006. Prosecutors opened an official investigation into Deutsche Telekom earlier this week and, on Thursday, began searching for evidence in the company's headquarters in Bonn.
The story broke at the weekend following a report in SPIEGEL, after which Telekom admitted to having turned over documents to public prosecutors indicating the company spied on top level management, supervisory board members and journalists in 2005 and 2006. Telekom allegedly hired a Berlin company to examine hundreds of thousands of phone connections to find calls between Telekom employees and journalists. Ralph Kühn, head of the Berlin company, called network.deutschland GmbH, told the financial daily Handelsblatt on Wednesday that "the assignment came from high up and was discussed with the Telekom executive board."
Kühn's comments turned up the heat on former CEO Kai-Uwe Ricke and former supervisory board chair Klaus Zumwinkel. Indeed, both Ricke and Zumwinkel are now under investigation in the affair. Prosecutors are trying to determine whether they ordered or were aware of the illegal snooping. A report in the Süddeutsche Zeitung points the finger at Klaus Zumwinkel as being an important figure in the scandal. The paper says that he was more involved in management details at Telekom than one would expect from the head of the supervisory board. Both Zumwinkel and Ricke have denied any knowledge of the spying.
If spying did in fact begin in 2000, former CEO Ron Sommer may also be implicated in the growing scandal.
The 2005-2006 spying allegations center on Reinhard Kowalewsky, a journalist for the business magazine Capital. Both Capital and Financial Times Deutschland are owned by publisher Gruner + Jahr, which also owns 25.5 percent of SPIEGEL's publisher, Spiegel Verlag. Gruner + Jahr said it was considering both criminal and civil proceedings against the telecommunications firm.
Current Telekom boss Rene Obermann has appeared to be fully cooperative with investigators and turned the case over to German authorities earlier this month. Indications are growing, however, that Obermann knew about the spying as early as last summer but kept it out of the public eye. The CEO fired the company's head of security Harald Steininger last summer and restructured the security division, apparently after having found out about the 2005-2006 snooping, but those newspapers affected were not notified, likely out of fear of negative publicity.
A company spokesman told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the company "didn't want to harm the investigation."
On Thursday, the company told SPIEGEL ONLINE that it is unaware of any spying in 2000 as alleged by the Financial Times Deutschland. "We are hearing this for the first time. We are not aware of such activities and we don't have any information," company spokesman Philipp Schindera told SPIEGEL ONLINE. The Financial Times Deutschland indicates that Steininger commissioned the 2000 spying operation as well, giving the contract to a company called Control Risks Group which worked together with Desa.
According to journalists who covered Telekom in 2005 and 2006, the company developed a sense of paranoia after a number of stories hit the headlines containing information from inside the company. CEO Ricke even complained that Telekom was "as full of holes as Swiss cheese."
SPIEGEL ONLINE reporter Thomas Hillenbrand, who covered Deutsche Telekom at the time for Financial Times Deutschland, says that even as the company began looking for "the leak," information was pouring out of the company from a variety of holes. Different divisions were at war with each other and the company had four different press offices, sometimes delivering conflicting information to journalists.