A German investigation of bribery at a Russian port now includes US authorities. Employees of automaker Ford and haulier DB Schenker are accused of paying bribes to expedite freight to a St. Petersburg car plant.
US authorities have joined in a two-year probe of carmaker Ford and German freight haulier Schenker that aims to determine whether the companies paid bribes to Russian customs officials to obtain expedited handling.
A report in Germany’s “Süddeutsche Zeitung” daily said the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has now joined investigations by prosecutors in Cologne, Germany, where Ford’s European operations are headquartered. The report said the US financial market watchdog believed it also had jurisdiction over the case because Ford is a US-based carmaker listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), and thus subject to US law.
Ford and DB Schenker, the freight division of state-owned German rail company Deutsche Bahn, have been under investigation in Germany since 2013 on suspicion of bribery in connection with the Russian port of St. Petersburg. That year, police searched the offices of Schenker employees following an anonymous tip; several were subsequently fired.
Russia’s busiest port has earned a reputation within the freight industry of being particularly slow and bureaucratic. The prosecutors accuse eight Schenker employees of paying one million euros ($1.1 million) to port employees to speed freight through customs and to the nearby Ford plant.
They also suspect two Ford employees and an employee of a Russian subcontractor of involvement in the alleged bribery.
On Tuesday, Ford in Cologne said it offered its full support to the investigation. It had no comment on the specific accusations.
“Ford is committed to legal compliance and business ethics in all of our operations around the globe, and we expect the same from our vendors,” Reuters news agency quoted a spokesman as saying.
Russia’s car market, which was briefly Europe’s largest, has been hit by the weakening ruble and western economic sanctions imposed following Russian involvement in the Ukrainian crisis.
The Ford plant played a key role in the automaker’s plans for the Russian market, but the company has recently cut jobs due to lagging demand. The plant is heavily dependent on the nearby port, as more than half of all parts are imported.
sgb/uhe (Reuters, dpa)