Embattled German rail chief offers to resign

31st March 2009, Comments 0 comments

Mehdorn's stint at Deutsche Bahn finally hit the wall following allegations that the company had monitored staff emails for signs they had contacted reporters or members of parliament.

Berlin -- The head of Germany's train operator, the country's biggest public company, said Monday he would quit after the latest in a string of scandals lost him the backing of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"I have offered my resignation to the president of the supervisory board," Deutsche Bahn head Hartmut Mehdorn told reporters, adding: "I assume that a successor will be appointed before the summer holidays" begin in July.

His offer to quit came as a blow to Merkel, who had until now supported him steadfastly as the affairs broke all around him.

And finding a replacement for the 66-year-old -- who had doubled Deutsche Bahn's turnover in his nearly ten-year stint at the firm -- presents her with a political headache only six months before an election.

The Berliner Zeitung daily reported that Germany's ruling coalition -- composed of Merkel's conservatives and Social Democrats led by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier -- wanted to appoint a successor as early as Tuesday.

Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee confirmed the government wanted to appoint a successor "rapidly" but Berlin denied media reports that Merkel intended to approach Airbus boss Thomas Enders for the job.

Mehdorn's stint at Deutsche Bahn finally hit the buffers following allegations Friday that the company had monitored staff emails for signs they had contacted reporters or members of parliament.

This scandal -- the latest in a string of similar affairs -- caused Merkel to withdraw her support, media reported.

Mehdorn himself said he had done nothing wrong. "My conscience is clear," he told reporters.

"This is not about a data protection scandal but rather a campaign to change company policy and management," he continued.

But the rail boss has been embroiled in other scandals: over the safety of high-speed ICE trains; and over hefty bonuses he negotiated for the privatisation of the rail network -- a plan that fell victim to the global financial crisis.

Frugal German travellers were also outraged by a Mehdorn scheme to make rail passengers pay a supplement of 2.50 euros (3.30 dollars) to buy a ticket at a counter, as opposed to over the Internet.

The scheme was eventually scrapped following a personal intervention from Merkel, but that did not stop Deutsche Bahn being voted the least popular company in Germany in a December poll.

The German government said it had taken note of Mehdorn's offer to quit and praised his performance in turning Deutsche Bahn into a world-leading transport and logistics company.

"The financial success of recent years and the securing of 220,000 jobs are clearly linked to the high level of Mehdorn's personal engagement and corporate know-how," the government said in a statement.

Economy Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said Mehdorn deserved "profound recognition" for his work in restructuring the firm over the past few years.

Last year, Deutsche Bahn turnover and passenger numbers increased for the fourth year in succession.


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