Berlin prosecutor expands investigation into broadcaster embezzlement allegations
Berlin’s public prosecutor has expanded rbb embezzlement and corruption investigation at the taxpayer-funded broadcasting company, to include current employees.
German broadcasting executives under investigation
In Berlin on Tuesday the public prosecution office announced that it was expanding its investigations into the public broadcasting company Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (rbb). It was confirmed to the Deutsche Presse Agentur (dpa) that the prosecutor is now investigating two employees, currently working at managerial level, for embezzlement and aiding and abetting embezzlement.
The broadened investigation will focus on allegations that high-level employees at rbb, which is part of the wider public broadcasting organisation ARD, received unusually high bonuses which do not exist at other ARD companies. It is alleged that rbb paid a five-figure sum to a consulting agency to develop the controversial “variable remuneration" bonus systems, which have now caught the attention of audit organisations in Berlin and Brandenburg. It is supposed that rbb also continued to pay salaries to former employees. A representative of the broadcasting council control committee, Ralf Roggenbuck, said that on Wednesday a meeting would take place between himself and rbb deputy Katrin Vernau.
What were the original corruption allegations made against rbb?
Vernau was elected by the rbb broadcasting council at the beginning of September following embezzlement allegations against former deputy Patricia Schlesigner. Schlesinger’s husband and former SPIEGEL journalist, Gerhard Spӧrl and Messe Berlin CEO Wolf-Dieter Wolf, were also implicated.
Back in August, Schlesinger, who was the rbb director and rotating chair of ARD and Deutsche Welle, faced a string of corruption allegations. During her time as director Schlesinger received a 16 percent bonus on top of her 303.000-euro salary and another bonus of 20.000 euros.
It was reported that the 61-year-old regularly used chauffeur services and hosted grand dinners at her private apartment, where the bottomless champagne tab was supposedly picked up by the broadcaster, which is funded by public taxes.
The findings reignited debates in Germany surrounding the monthly public broadcasting fee (Rundfunkbeitrag), that all households are obliged to pay. Since the fee increase in 2021 households pay 18,36 euros per month to fund the broadcasting company, regardless of whether they use the services or not.
Schlesinger’s husband Spӧrl has also been accused of offering up his wife’s broadcasting connections to further his own entrepreneurial ventures. In August, Business Insider revealed that a 100.000 euro consultancy contract had been signed between Spӧrl and Messe Berlin CEO, Wolf-Dieter Wolf - a questionable business relationship since Wolf was also appointed head of board of directors at rbb. Business Insider also reported that Wolf had offered personal support to ensure Spӧrl would receive the 100.000-euro contract.