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‘Mr Siemens’ persona non grata at company HQ

A few years ago Heinrich von Pierer was “Mr Siemens”, head of a successful German industrial titan making everything from nuclear power stations to cellphones and master of all he surveyed.

But now, with the company reeling from a huge corruption scandal, Von Pierer, chief executive for 13 years and chairperson for another two, is reportedly no longer welcome at Siemens headquarters in Munich.

According to a report in the Financial Times Deutschland on Friday, Siemens’ new chief Peter Loescher, brought in to restore the firm to its squeaky-clean former glory, wrote a brutal letter to Von Pierer at the end of July.

Not only did Loescher and anti-corruption chief Peter Solmssen tell Von Pierer he was no longer entitled to have use of an office but they also asked him not to show his face again until further notice, the FTD said.

A company spokesperson said that it was logical that Von Pierer is no longer allowed to make use of headquarters as he no longer works for Siemens.

“Mr Von Pierer no longer works for the company, so it’s logical that he no longer has use of the firm’s resources,” the spokesperson said.

But other former managers who also got post from Loescher and Solmssen telling them they can no longer have use of an office can continue to use the firm’s facilities, the FTD said.

Volker Jung, for example, the former board member at Siemens’ telecoms equipment division — source of many of the firm’s corruption accusations — can still play tennis at Siemens’ sports complex, the newspaper said.

If true, it is quite a comedown for the 67-year-old Von Pierer.

A staunch member of the conservative CSU party, the Bavarian sister of the Christian Democratic Union or CDU, Von Pierer was not only advisor to current Chancellor Angela Merkel but was also on very good terms with her Social Democrat predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, with whom he played tennis.

Back in the 1970s, Von Pierer tried to move into politics and was once even seen as a potential candidate for the largely ceremonial post of German president. In 2004, he became the first German company boss to deliver a speech in front of the United Nations.

But his reputation has been tarnished by a huge corruption scandal shaking the foundations of the 160-year-old firm that led to his resignation as chairperson of the board in April 2007.

Siemens is engulfed in a massive slush-fund scandal, in which the sprawling conglomerate has acknowledged that €1,3-billion ($1,9-billion) was funnelled into funds used to obtain foreign contracts.

The conglomerate, employing about 400 000 people worldwide, has admitted that the practice was widespread across its numerous divisions.

Prosecutors are investigating about 300 people in connection with the affair.

In July, Siemens announced it was suing 11 former directors for damages, including Von Pierer and his successor as chief executive, Klaus Kleinfeld.

The management is also accused of trying to build up a small trade union as a counterweight to the powerful IG Metall union.

Much of the alleged wrongdoing took place during Von Pierer’s reign and critics say a culture of corruption flourished under his aegis.

It is not quite game, set and match however, as Von Pierer — unlike other former managers — has not been charged with any crime and has so far only been called as a witness. He may yet return to headquarters.

Meanwhile, Von Pierer is not likely to be idle. He has set up a consulting firm to advise German companies on investing and doing business in Asia, the German economic magazine Wirtschaftswoche reported on its website on Saturday. – AFP

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Simon Sturdee
Simon Sturdee
South Asia news editor for AFP news agency based in Delhi.

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