Bribery Verdicts

Hard Landing in Frankfurt

Fraport
Frankfurt airport under scrutiny.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The nine-month trial comes to a close, pending appeal, just as another case of corruption at Frankfurt Airport – an alleged tax-evasion scheme involving illegal cargo and baggage handlers – comes to light.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Frankfurt Airport is the third-busiest airport in Europe after London Heathrow and Paris-Charles de Gaulle airports.
    • Businessmen paid bribes to obtain an order to develop a new cargo center near the airport, called Cargo-City Süd.
    • The court sentenced well-known Frankfurt real-estate developer Ardi Goldman to two years and eight months in prison and demanded repayment of around €14.4 million.
  • Audio

    Audio

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A state court in Frankfurt on Tuesday handed out multi-year jail sentences and tens of millions of euros in fines to several German businessmen, including two prominent ones. The people were found guilty of bribery in the award of building rights for an expansion project at Frankfurt Airport.

Pending appeal, the nine-month corruption trail comes to a close just as another major scandal at Frankfurt Airport – the third-busiest airport in Europe after London Heathrow and Paris-Charles de Gaulle airports – comes to light. In early October, police and customs officers raided companies involved in an alleged €17.6 million, or $18.7 million, tax-evasion scheme involving illegal cargo and baggage handlers.

While it may still take time for state prosecutors to win convictions in that latest case of corruption at Frankfurt Airport, yesterday’s verdict exposed an extensive, unrelated scheme.

In a building rights case, a group of real-estate developers bribed an employee of Frankfurt Airport operator Fraport with €2.8 million, or $3 million, between 2006 and 2013 to obtain the rights to build a new cargo center near the airport, called Cargo-City Süd.

The court sentenced flamboyant Frankfurt real-estate developer Ardi Goldman to two years and eight months in prison for his role in the bribery scandal. Mr. Goldman, who frequently lashed out during the trial, must also repay around €14.4 million in illegally generated profits.

“No court could rule any other way,” the presiding judge, Christopher Erhard, said after levying his verdict. He directed his comments at Mr. Goldman, who again cursed at the judge during this 36th day in court and maintained his innocence despite clear evidence of guilt, in the judge’s view.

Mr. Goldmann is one of four defendants found guilty in the bribery scam, which also included Jürgen Harder, husband of former German national swimmer and Olympic medalist Franziska van Almsick.

The unruly Mr. Goldman was the only one of the defendants not to plead guilty to the bribery charges.

Mr. Harder was involved in the scheme as a project developer with co-defendant “Kai B.” – whose full name was withheld from the official court proceeding.  Unlike Mr. Goldman, a repentant Mr. Harder plead guilty and described the bribery racket as a “big mistake.”

Although he avoided jail time, the court decided Mr. Harder must pay €5.5 million to the state treasury and another €500,000 to shared community facilities. Mr. Harder’s co-defendant Kai B. must pay the state treasury €1 million.

“I consider the verdict justified,” said Bernd Gross, Kai B.’s attorney, who said he would not appeal the decision.

Real estate broker Uwe S. – whose full name also was withheld from the proceeding – received the stiffest jail sentence among the four defendants for his central role in the corruption scandal.

The court sentenced him to three years behind bars for acting as middleman between Fraport manager Volker Antoni and the others involved in the bribes.

The late Mr. Antoni, who died in a car accident when the trial was still ongoing, was also a defendant accused of accepting €510,000 of the €2.8 million the group offered to pay him.

The unruly Mr. Goldman was the only one of the defendants not to plead guilty to the bribery charges. The uncooperative behavior of the well-known Frankfurt real-estate developer appears to be responsible for the degree of his sentence, which was harsher than Mr. Harder’s sentence even though the judge had alluded that the latter’s crime was more severe.

In the end, Mr. Goldman, pending appeal, will receive jail time, while Mr. Harder will not.

A spokeswoman for the state prosecutors office said it would unlikely appeal the court’s verdict because the ruling agreed with the state’s position “to the greatest extent possible.” Lawyers involved in the case also praised state prosecutor Christopher Wenzl.

But defense attorney Uwe Lenhart, who defended property broker Uwe S., begs to differ. “We are considering an appeal,” said Mr. Lenhart said.

An appeal by Mr. Goldman is foreseeable – anything else would be a surprise.

 

Volker Votsmeier is an editor with Handelsblatt’s investigative reporting team. To contact the author: votsmeier@handelsblatt.com

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