A three-week undercover investigation

The minutes of the investigation recorded by Frank BRENDEL

May 1992. Two and a half years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I am in Dresden to investigate on behalf of Greenpeace,

  • from where,
  • how
  • and by whom

are often highly toxic pesticides ( taken to Romania and being disposed there at low-cost at the expense of the local environment. These pesticides were intended to be disposed in Germany properly. Apparently fraudsters and criminals entered the business. The risk of being exposed is great. Possibly I will put myself into danger. Another risk relates to the investigation itself. If the search fails, the extensive work of Greenpeace would have been useless.

My entry

I need a minimum of security as well as a kind of control to situations that are not to be calculated in advance. Therefore, a detective of the State Criminal Police Office was informed about the project. I inform him about my plans, places and dates. At that time there were no small and inconspicuous cell phones available with which one in his pants pocket unnoticed could trigger a warning cry with a preprogrammed telephone number. Mobile phones were then the size of small suitcases. The only modern tool is a rented new midsize car, with which one can drive fast. Its function is mainly representative: I'm trying to enter into the business of toxic waste racketeers under false pretenses.

A., racketeer of toxic waste

I visit the forwarding agent Thomas A. unannounced at his office. Greenpeace suspected him of being at a medium level one of the important figures of the toxic waste export business to Romania.
By phone I had asked already twice for an interview. I had reported me under a false name and pretended I wished to talk about opportunities and experiences of young entrepreneurs from the former GDR in the forwarding industry. Both times I was put off indefinitely.

Several informants had given me insight into the business practices of A. as well as in his private life and his professional career in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). A. worked at least part-time for the Ministry for State Security of the GDR and had been active in youth organizations of the GDR. In the meantime I had found articles in the local press about A. and his forwarding agency. My interest was to learn whether the transport of toxic waste still persisted, in which country the toxic waste was brought and whether an interim storage facility was used and if so, where it was actually.

A. had his office in a large building like apparently a variety of other small and medium-sized companies. Many employees are traveling in the hallways. I feel relatively safe in the building. Even if A. find out about my true identity, he could hardly do more as to throw me out of his office. In this case any further research likely endangered. Therefore, I will do my best to arouse no suspicion at A.. I will politely ask him for an interview and leave the office, if A. has no time.

Behind the door a voice is be heard. I knock and go into the office. A. sits casually behind his desk, holding in one hand the phone, beckons me in with the other hand. He signals me to sit down and smiles at me, while he continues with his phone call.

As A. finished his phone call, he stands up and walks toward me. "Thank you for coming. I remember your last article - which was not that nice. Well, let us bygones be bygones!" Puzzled I reply, that we had never met before. But A. insists that I am a member of the editorial staff of a local tabloid newspaper and we would already know each other well. He winks and blinks at me. Either there is someone in Dresden who looks a lot like me or A. makes many acquaintances under the influence of alcohol. I do not try to clear up the confusion. It seems A. likes me as the person for whom he holds me. A coincidence helps me in my investigation.

A. is good-humored and relaxed. I question him about his latest projects. A. plans to build an intermediate-or perhaps even a repository for radioactive waste in Bulgaria. Cooperation is discussed with the NUKEM company of Hanau, Germany. He shows me correspondence, plans and technical drawings. But the correspondence is meaningless and the drawings could also just about a very large warehouse. I show my strong interest and use technical terms when we talk about the repositories of burned fuel rods. A. and I are at once on the same wavelength. The first step has been taken.

We began to talk about A.'s career in the GDR. He was a member of the Free German Youth and managed somehow to make a career in this organization. He worked as a DJ for the Socialist Unity Party and was therefore a regular guest at many parties where lots of contacts were established. I steer the conversation to the genuinely interesting topic. I tell him I have heard, his forwarding agency is dealing with the export of agricultural chemicals. Then I ask without further justification whether he knew of favorable possibilities of disposal? A. waves me off and says he had no knowledge of those opportunities.

I give him hints that I have detailed knowledge about some waste disposal operations. Operations, of which I know, A. was involved. He seems a little flattered but is also cautious. He alleged he never had anything to do directly with the waste disposal business. He had only give advice to some West German businessmen. A. complains, only unreliable business partners in the waste disposal industry. He blames local authorities of acting to bureaucratically and to obstruct any kind of export transactions. Meticulously he counts me details from the interior of East German authorities. I stress my interest in his experiences and our conversation is relaxing again. But how can I return to my real questions? A. told me basically the exact opposite of my state of knowledge. It is impossible to confront him with my knowledge now because there are still some crucial things I do not know yet. I would only expose him as a liar and he would perceive me as an enemy. This would not be helpful at this time. So I continue listening while he was complaining about the authorities. Our conversation is finally relaxed so that he asks me whether he can do something for me?

I already had raised almost all the points that interested me, but A. had only vaguely reacted to it. I am talking again about project “storage of nuclear waste”, which A had mentioned at the beginning. He may call in the newsroom if these plans are further advanced. I thank him for this conversation and say good-bye.

As I left the building, I am annoyed because of the course of our conversation. Actually, A. had told me nothing. Although some of my guesses seem be confirmed, this does not help my investigation. Even though the interview was well prepared, I had not developed an appropriate strategy for my questions. I should have asked queries, which A would have liked to answer. I hope A. forgets my visit quickly.

From now on I will no longer occur as a journalist in this investigation. If necessary, I would claim to have worked as a journalist before. From now on I am a "businessman" or "dynamic young entrepreneur" and I am looking for market gaps.

My legend: My girlfriend works for the state-owned “Treuhand” organization in Berlin in a department that terminates the former agricultural production cooperatives (LPG) in the GDR. Thus I am aware of the problems and high costs associated with the disposal of agricultural chemicals. And of course I know as well, where even larger stocks for disposal are available and which funds are provided.

By using this knowledge I want to earn good money by participating in the disposal of chemicals. I will occur as a creative businessman who takes laws not always very seriously. From earlier times I have allegedly still good contacts to South East Europe and attractive options of disposals as well as recycling for the agricultural chemicals. My slogan is: "Why these materials should be disposed of with high cost, if there are markets in other countries for such cases?"

B., racketeer of toxic waste

The conversation with A. had not been in vain. Now I use his vision and his descriptions of the waste disposal business for my camouflage. It will help me to occur as a racketeer of toxic waste.
I am in the small Saxon town Oberlungwitz, the place where the interim storage of the toxic waste should be. From here, the trucks drive straight to the destination in Romania.

Half a day I walked and drove through town in order to identify possible storages for toxic waste. It is already late afternoon when I came to the porter of a textile factory. I am allegedly a businessman on a search to rent storage capacities for the export business in the Czech-Saxon border area. After a short wait Henning B. welcomes me in his office.

According to his business card, B. is technical managing director and board member of the firm. Otherwise I know nothing about B.. And he knows nothing of me. Due to time constraints, he could not have researched about me, why he might be cautious. When I had visited A., I used a different name and also another legend. As long as I could play my role here, there would be no danger.

Obviously B.`s Office has not changed since the fall of the wall. Only a modern phone gives a hint that the GDR no longer exists. I introduce myself as an free-lance consultant who is working in the waste disposal business. I am talking a bit about myself (i.e. my legend) and my alleged girlfriend. Finally I say directly that I am interested in a short-term interim storage for agricultural chemicals. I had received a tip from the environment of A..

B. is responding immediately to my request. Fundamentally, the chemicals could be stored in a warehouse of the factory without any problems. This warehouse would fulfil all the requirements for the storage of dangerous goods of this kind. Currently the hall is rented. But in six weeks, no, maybe in three weeks he could offer me to use the hall.

I lament about endless difficulties with the authorities. These wanted to see leases short-term, which means that one has to prove its ability to act. At this point I use different terms from the waste management industry and trade names for forms and administrative acts. I say that I would appreciate to talk with the current tenant. Maybe we could rent the warehouse jointly.

But B. does not mention the name of the tenant. This is allegedly part of their contract. I reply, he could tell me if it is A.. Though indeed a competitor of A., I would be able to arrange with him. But B. claims: "It is not A." "What do you get per square foot in rent?", I ask. B. answers immediately: "8,50 DM". I offer him 10.50 DM. But I have to inspect the hall in order to schedule them as bearing. He squirms. He claims to have not even a key to the hall currently. Finally he asks how long I would like rent the hall? Instead an answer I have a lot of questions about ramps, lifts and forklifts. I pretend to have great plans in mind.

B. promises a contact with the current tenants of the hall. Within two days.

B. did not call me up. On the third day, I called him. Now B. articulates demands. He wants to know what benefits he could have from a contact between me and the current tenants. When the current lease is finished, I could rent the camp.

I object, of course, too, for him, this contact should be an advantage. If I could rent the hall together with the current tenant, he would receive in addition to the rent 1,50 DM per month and per square meter. With approximately 1,200 square feet of warehouse space it was incentive for him enough to pass me name and telephone number of the current tenant.

C., racketeer of toxic waste

With the current tenant of the hall, let's call him C,, I have an appointment in his office, which apparently is also a part of his house. We are in a small village in Saxon Vogtland. C. has a small transport company with six trucks. He is already noticed in GDR times for crimes such as fraud and assault. And he makes a violent impression.

I had introduced myself with my legend of a businessman and requested urgently a meeting for the purpose to share the space of the warehouse. C. meets me at his doorstep and asks me to join him to his car, a revamped medium-sized vehicle. I could leave my car here. We would return here anyway. He did not have much time but during the half-hour trip to the hall we could talk.

For a moment I am very confused whether I should accept his offer of a ride in his car. If C knows who I am, I give him the opportunity to lead me directly into a trap. On the other hand, I do not want arouse C.'s suspicions. His proposal sounds plausible and I can think of no plausible counter-argument. I opt for the risk. If I drive with my car to the hall, C. could also steer me into a trap. My car would also not of much help in a cleverly planned trap.

Instead of raising the issue of a joint use of the warehouse right away, during our little journey I question him about his vehicle, e.g. the costs of several extras. This pleases him and since I am fairly familiar with cars, we come quickly into a lively conversation. Then he asks about my professional background and my plans. I talk about my past life as a journalist and my current personal contacts into the state-owned “Treuhand” organization. I speak disparagingly of journalists and negative about the “Treuhand”. This pleases him again and now I can question him, since when he owns a forwarding agency, how he joined this business and what his work was in the GDR.

C. presents himself as a kind of resistance fighter, who was imprisoned twice as a political prisoner. After the fall of the wall, he saw his chance as an independent contractor and had entered the then booming forwarding industry. Unfortunately, the business was getting worse and it became increasingly difficult to get orders for the trucks.

Since I am familiar with current freight rates in Germany and Europe, I speak of orders I might give to him. The orders would be rewarded in accordance with customary rates. C. complains of my allegedly unattractive offer. I reply, that I am a businessman. There would enough freight forwarders and C. earns already at the sub-lease of the warehouse. My statement seems to impress him.

In the warehouse there are about 40 pallets loaded with various agricultural chemicals. The labels are partially no longer legible. Some containers were leaking.. It smells terrible.

These are goods of A., I say suddenly. C. nods. We start to speak of A.. C. transports the goods as a subcontractor for A.. He rents trucks of A. and transports the agricultural chemicals after Romania. A. brought these goods previously into the hall. C. receives allegedly only normal freight rates. Often the loading of the pallets onto the truck is not easy. The pallets are often unstable. The payment of the drivers is the matter of C..

More and more I make disparaging remarks about A.. He destroys allegedly the reputation of the legitimate waste management industry, which I belong to. The garbage in the hall - its none of my doing. I want to know when the stuff is removed. Monday or Tuesday at the latest, is C.`s answer. On Wednesday I could be a tenant of the warehouse. Today is Thursday. We talk about the price and I do my best, to comply C `s idea of a Western businessman. C. is a bit frustrated. I do not want to pay more than half of the rent. He wants to think about my offer until Monday. During the ride back we talk about cars again.

On Monday, C.'s on the phone. He accepts my offer and says that the warehouse will be vacated by Tuesday, 3 pm.

The end of an undercover investigation

On Wednesday morning I read in a Dresden tabloid newspaper a headline story about a toxic waste transport which was stopped by Greenpeace at the border. A Greenpeace representative explained to reporters that Greenpeace had been informed by residents of Oberlungwitz about the storage of toxic waste. These residents had become suspicious because of the stench from the warehouse.

Wednesday at noon I call C and scold violently. How could it happen that his transports were halted by Greenpeace? What is going on? I would immediately renounce any further business relationship with him. C should forget my name immediately. C is distraught and dejected. We have never again met or spoken.

Thus ended my undercover investigation.