Prosecutors check if Telekom leaks inquiry broke law

German prosecutors said Saturday they will assess whether an elaborate investigation into high-level media leaks at Deutsche Telekom, one of Germany's biggest companies, broke privacy laws when phone billing records were checked, dpa reported.

The phone giant announced it had purged its corporate security unit last year, assigned a law firm to investigate and reported the irregularities to police. Prosecutors in Bonn said they were still reading the documents and had not decided yet whether to act.

While there was no allegation that any phones were tapped, the reported analysis of billing records on hundreds of thousands of calls for possible match-ups between German journalists and Telekom directors could collide with German privacy law.

Telekom has its own computerized billing records, which note the times and duration of customers' calls and the numbers called.

The allegations were first reported Saturday by the German news weekly Der Spiegel in advance of its Monday issue.

Telekom, one of the biggest companies on the German stock market, remains one third in federal ownership.

Its affairs are closely followed by the German news media, which have often quoted leaks from authoritative sources.

Spiegel said the corporate security unit had suspected senior executives or supervisory board members might be to blame, and had also tried to trace the leak route by planting subtly altered information with Telekom figures suspected of betraying secrets.

Quoting a three-page document it saw, Spiegel said the various inquiries had been codenamed Operation Clipper and Operation Rheingold, and had aimed to find if any key figures often phoned reporters.

Lothar Schroeder, a trade unionist who is deputy chairman of the Telekom supervisory board, said it would be "an extensive scandal" if executive officers, board members and journalists had been spied on.

Speaking to the dpa-AFX news agency, he called for a full inquiry.

Telekom said calls were not actually tapped, but the billing data had been illegally accessed in 2005 and "according to new claims" in 2006 too. Chief executive Rene Obermann said, "We're taking this very seriously. We have reported it to the public prosecutor."

A Telekom spokesman said the authorities were told on May 14. Friedrich Apostel, spokesman for public prosecutors in Bonn where Telekom has its offices, said, "Telekom sent us a fairly large package of documents with a request to look at them."

In recent years German companies whose shares are traded in the United States have adopted the US practice of investigating and publicizing criminal actions within their own bureaucracies.

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