According to Rolf Buch, he did not personally know the employees who are currently being investigated in a corruption affair at Vonovia, but the CEO of Germany's largest housing group is visibly shaken by what came to light a little more than a week ago during a search of the Dax Group. "We have obviously become victims of criminal machinations," Buch said on Thursday evening in a round of journalists on the occasion of the presentation of the annual figures. "The fact that these criminal machinations come from personal circles is bitter. We trusted these people." The fraud is also so shocking because it undermines trust in other employees.

Jonas Jansen

Business correspondent in Düsseldorf.

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On March 7, among other things, the headquarters of the housing company was searched by the public prosecutor's office in Bochum. Current and former employees are said to have given preference to several companies working for Vonovia when awarding contracts and received money or benefits in kind in return. In addition, they are also said to have manipulated bills of quantities in order to be able to make excessive invoices and, for example, to invoice craftsman activities that did not take place at all.

The money is said to have divided the accused among themselves, the prosecutor's office said. In total, more than 40 private and business premises were searched in North Rhine-Westphalia, Baden-Württemberg, Hamburg and Saxony and four arrest warrants were executed. Vonovia is the injured party, and the Group is still investigating whether tenants were subsequently affected by the damage suffered by the Group.

"Zero tolerance"

This is particularly painful for Buch, as responsibility for compliance rests directly with him as CEO. The company has filed a complaint, according to the book, "zero tolerance" applies, "we try to punish this with all severity". However, the CEO is not yet able to give further results, which is probably not expected for a few months. For example, Vonovia commissioned an independent study by Deloitte, and just like the law firm Hengeler Müller, which is involved, the management consultancy is not regularly in business relations with Vonovia.

The Group's current auditor is KPMG. Because the search of the housing group took place shortly before the presentation of the annual report, the internal control system (ICS) was also reviewed again within less than a week until publication, which was a prerequisite for the report to be published as planned. In its annual report, Vonovia points out that "any identified weaknesses in the internal control system will be remedied promptly." According to initial findings, the fraud did not have a material impact on the Group's financial position. The volume is expected to account for less than 1 percent of the orders that Vonovia awards in total.

Compliance to be improved

In recent years, the number of corruption cases in the annual reports has always been zero. In the 2021 financial year, there was a Group-wide compliance risk analysis among the Group's executives, as shown in the current annual report. "Potential for improvement" in money laundering prevention and IT security was identified, "while the other areas were regarded as good to very well positioned," it says.