Police continue spy case investigations

German police in Oldenburg say they are still investigating allegations of industrial espionage made by wind company Enercon against two employees of California company Kenetech and an independent German consultant. The accused deny the allegations and give their version of events which led to the accusations

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German police in Oldenburg say they are still investigating allegations of industrial espionage made by wind company Enercon against two employees of California company Kenetech and an independent German consultant (Windpower Monthly, May 1996). The office of the Oldenburg Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) adds that it expects a protracted investigation.

"The accusations are very serious. We have to find out if this is a real case or a matter of industrial jealousy," said a DPP spokesperson last month. "The DPP has only seen the files once. They were immediately returned to the police who have been active for several weeks already." In a further statment a second spokesperson said: "Investigations are continuing by the Aurich police. A decision over whether charges will be made is expected at the end of the summer. Cases involving foreign companies are always rather more complex."

Enercon accuses Bob Jans, the director of Kenetech's office in the Netherlands, Kenetech employee Ruth Heffernan, and consultant Ubbo de Witt, of spying on an Enercon E40 turbine. Although in April Kenetech officially declined to comment on the matter from its California headquarters, Jans says he is "eager to comment on this absurd allegation." He maintains the allegations are false, although admits that he has inspected an E40 on two occasions when photographs were taken.

"It is totally false that we downloaded or even had access to the computer programmes; we only took some pictures and made notes of certain items observed," he states of a visit to an Enercon E40 in March 1994. Referring to an inspection of an E40 nacelle he and Heffernan made at a European wind energy conference in Travemünde in Germany in March 1993, he adds: "Mr Wobben [Enercon's director] personally invited Ruth Heffernan . . . who identified herself as a Kenetech employee to Wobben, to enter the nacelle where he explained in quite some detail and with obvious pride the highlights of his technology. He also agreed to Ruth taking pictures."

Referring to his 1994 inspection of a turbine in the field, Jans says that no "detailed knowledge" is required to stop an E40, as claimed by Enercon, and that it is "pure nonsense" to suggest that he and the other accused used secret codes to access the control unit. "We opened the door with the owner's key and took a picture." Neither, states Jans, was Ubbo de Witt asked to spy on Enercon on behalf of Kenetech. "We have never asked him or anybody else to acquire information which would be confidential or would only be obtainable through improper means. Kenetech's ethics have always been of prime importance because Kenetech is a public corporation and therefore under very close scrutiny."

Ubbo de Witt, who also vehemently denies all allegatons, further adds that "nothing was found during the police raid" of his premises. "Documents found from Enercon were only application forms and general portfolios we need to do our job for projects we do with Enercon, which we all got back at the end of the week," he states.

Referring to the ongoing patent case instigated by Kenetech against Enercon's wind turbine technology, Jans suggests the allegations of spying made by Wobben at a press conference in Germany on March 15 this year were to "prepare or side-track his audience for the bad news that might be forthcoming with the patent verdict." Jans points out that Kenetech obtained its patents in July 1993 while the "so-called spy mission" took place in 1994. "There can hardly be any connection between our "espionage" and the technology for which Kenetech had a patent," he states.

Kenetech brought its patent suit against Enercon in January 1995 after the German company won a contract for delivery of 80 wind turbines for a project in Texas. Kenetech claims the Enercon turbine infringes its variable speed technology, among other things. According to Jans, Enercon "took a potential order away from Kenetech using technology for which we had a patent. In the absence of any move from the part of Enercon to remedy such situation, Kenetech took legal steps against Enercon."

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