Hartmut Mehdorn had five minutes.
It was the afternoon of Thursday, February 26. The head of the company that is managing construction of Berlin’s scandal-plagued new airport was a guest on the local nightly television news show, “Abendschau.” Only a few hours had passed since the latest piece of bad news had surfaced about the airport, which was already three years overdue and more than four times over budget.
A manager at Germany’s largest building site had reportedly accepted bribes from a construction company doing work on the massive, unfinished project located on Berlin’s southeastern edge.
The public prosecutor’s office found €300,000 ($332,000) in cash in the manager’s apartment.
Mr. Mehdorn, the former chief executive of the German railroad, Deutsche Bahn, looked glum as he walked into the TV studio, wearing a black suit and striped tie. A gruff, squat manager known in Germany for his ability to get things done, Mr. Mehdorn faced the music.
“The man was brought in before I arrived,” Mr. Mehdorn told the television interviewer. “And I removed this man from the construction site relatively soon after I took the position, because a number of things hadn’t been done correctly.”
“Hasn’t this completely spoiled your departure?” the interviewer asked Mr. Mehdorn, who had announced his plans to leave the project two months earlier. “The public is increasingly under the impression that the airport is nothing but a money-destroying machine.”