Volker Hoff on “empirical values” and “perceived sizes”
Two witnesses in the trial of Aleksander Ruzicka provided a strangely bizarre picture this week. Reinhard Zoffel and Volker Hoff accused each other of being involved in Ruzicka’s alleged acts of infidelity.
Zoffel testified that Hoff was responsible for finances and contracts. Hoff, on the other hand, claimed that Zoffel and Ruzicka designed the cooperation between ZHP and Carat/Aegis. Zoffel told him what was going to be done and Hoff would have agreed. In addition, Hoff no longer wants to be able to remember many details and verbal agreements. According to Hoff, some of these dates back six years. After leaving ZHP, Volker Hoff is now Europe Minister in the Hessian state government in the cabinet of Prime Minister Roland Koch.
Between 2002 and 2006, the two former managing directors of the Wiesbaden advertising agency ZHP Zoffel, Hoff and Partners, received repayments totaling nine million euros from alleged media purchasing advantages that the Aegis subsidiary Carat is said to have achieved for its advertising customers. In 38 cases, ZHP paid a total of 6.5 million euros to companies such as Camaco, Life2Solutions or property company Haideweg 14. Zoffel and Hoff considered these companies to be subsidiaries of Aegis Media. Even if, for example, the property company Haideweg 14 GmbH (OH14) is said to have aimed to build a villa for the former Carat managing director and HMS/Carat co-founder Heinrich Kernebeck. Nevertheless, OH14 is said to have provided “consulting services” for ZHP. The charges against Heinrich Kernebeck were dismissed by the Wiesbaden district court on the grounds that Kernebeck was not involved in the illegal activities and that he was not provably complicit. The Frankfurt Higher Regional Court will only decide on the complaint from the public prosecutor’s office once the verdict has been reached in this process.
The prosecution assumes that the repayments are funds that have been embezzled at Aegis Media. According to Reinhard Zoffel, there was an agency agreement between Carat/Aegis and ZHP. This is said to have come about on the initiative of Heinrich Kernebeck in 2002. After that, all ZHP customers were looked after by Carat/Aegis. ZHP provides creative services. Carat/Aegis is responsible for media planning and media purchasing. Benefits from media purchasing, such as capitalized free spots, are said to have been shared between Carat/Aegis and ZHP. There was no written agreement on this. This was “lived”, according to Zoffel.
And it went like this: according to Reinhard Zoffel, there were regular “settlement talks” with Aleksander Ruzicka. At these meetings, Ruzicka handed him the credits from alleged media purchasing benefits that Carat/Aegis are said to have achieved in the form of checks. Zoffel, on the other hand, brought the bills he had received from the companies Camaco or Life2Solutions. Ruzicka is said to have checked them. This should have happened quickly: the invoices came from his own companies. Ruzicka is said to have used these amounts in blank checks from ZHP, which Zoffel then signed. Volker Hoff on this: “I thought that this would be used to settle loads that were incurred at Carat/Aegis”. He is aware that “in retrospect it seems somehow strange”. And: “There was no commercial basis for these amounts”. After persistent inquiries by judge Jürgen Bonk, Hoff referred to “empirical values” and “perceived sizes”. The procedure is also not uncommon among creative people in the advertising industry.
If Carat/Aegis reimbursed ZHP for media purchasing benefits amounting to nine million euros in a kind of “lived benefit sharing”, this would have to be money in which the ZHP customers would have had a share. Some witnesses from Aegis Media had testified that campaigns for ZHP customers were realized to an unusually large extent from discounts in kind. So big that TV marketers had expressed concerns about the high proportion of free spots used. There were differing statements as to whether the benefit-sharing ratio of 80:20 was good or bad for Carat/Aegis.
Equally unresolved was the question of whether ZHP or ZHP customers were harmed if the ZHP managing directors passed on most of the repayments from Carat/Aegis to other companies for “consulting services”. Reinhard Zoffel calls the transactions “conclusive and logical” and he “didn’t question them further”. He was very disappointed in his then-boyfriend Aleksander Ruzicka. Zoffel thought, where Ruzicka is written on it, Carat/Aegis is in it. Hoff also says he didn’t know anything about supposedly illegal activities and distanced himself from Ruzicka.
The testimonies of Zoffel and Hoff did not reveal anything new for the prosecutor and the defense. According to Volker Hoff, senior public prosecutor Thoma sees no new reasons to also investigate the Hessian minister, while Reinhard Zoffel is being investigated for aiding and abetting infidelity. The trial will continue next Wednesday. Co-defendant David Linn is scheduled to read a statement outlining the prosecution’s allegations. mz