Labor leader unrepentant at Volkswagen trial

23rd February 2008, Comments 0 comments

Klaus Volkert once the most powerful man in Germany's semi-unique system of workplace democracy jailed for two years.

Braunschweig, Germany (dpa) - The man at the center of labor corruption at German automaker Volkswagen stared blankly ahead of himself as he was jailed for two years and nine months.

Klaus Volkert, 65, once the most powerful man in Germany's semi-unique system of workplace democracy, had finally got his just desserts for a decade of helping himself to corporate money.

German law requires big companies to pay salaries and give offices to labour spokesmen, who are elected by the workforce and have legal power to block certain management decisions.

The court heard Volkert, a trade unionist and former mechanic, took almost 2 million euros ($3 million) in cash and perks from the former chief personnel officer at Volkswagen, Peter Hartz.

In addition, he arranged for his mistress, Adriana Barros, a woman from Brazil, to be put on the payroll of VW's Czech subsidiary Skoda. Not that she worked there. But she was paid 400,000 euros in all.

He flew off on exotic foreign holidays with her, all expenses paid by Volkswagen.

Not once since his resignation in 2005 has Volkert apologized. He claimed in court he had been helping Volkswagen to make money. Perhaps the shock finally set in when the game was up for him on Friday.

A former human-resources executive, Klaus-Joachim Gebauer, was given a suspended jail term of one year at the same sentencing. He also seemed upset. He had argued that he was just following orders.

Gebauer, 63, organized drinks galore, holidays in the sun and prostitutes on demand for Volkert. He said Hartz told him to "be generous." If he had not done so, he would have lost his job, he claimed.

He sought an acquittal, which would have allowed him to challenge his instant dismissal and reclaim a company pension, to no avail.

At sentence, Volkert, who spent three weeks in pre-trial custody in 2006, seemed absent-minded as presiding judge Gerstin Dreyer read her verdict. He flicked a speck of dirt off his tie as if he was mulling important future plans.

But as the verdict continued, he grew ashen. He slumped in his chair.

By the time the 90-minute judgment was over, he seemed to have aged. He pushed past reporters without a word. He does not have to report to jail till his appeal is settled. When coaxed before a camera, he became combative again.

He claimed he was the victim of a witch-hunt not seen since Nazi times.

"Social Democrats and trade unionists couldn't get a fair trial in the olden days either," he blustered.

His lawyer, Johann Schwenn, compared the jail term to the outcome for Hartz, who plea-bargained for a suspended two-year sentence and fine of 576,000 euros. Schwenn claimed there was different justice for labor men and executives.

Not so, retorted prosecutor Klaus Ziehe speaking to reporters.

"You always have to punish those who take bribes even harder than those who give them," he said.

The verdict climaxes an inquiry into a web of misdeeds among senior figures at Volkswagen which also embraced bribes from potential suppliers and the creation of dummy companies to secure lucrative contracts from VW abroad.

Many who followed the trial wondered if Hartz had been the summit of the system of corruption, as Hartz insisted.

One man in court said he was disappointed no responsibility had been attached to Ferdinand Piech, the chief executive of Volkswagen at the time and now the group's supervisory board chairman.

Piech, who had a reputation for running a tight ship, testified he knew nothing about the corrupt practices.

DPA with Expatica

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