Lucrative real estate deals: Investors in eastern Germany collect millions with refugee homes
In the district of Ostprignitz-Ruppin, business people often buy real estate that later becomes refugee homes. A total of five million euros flowed from the administration to the investors. There are signs of favoritism. Despite the additional costs, the district is sticking to the cooperation.
The recognized resort of Flecken-Zechlin is a quiet and picturesque little village with 900 inhabitants. But on October 20, 2022 there was an uproar: the administration of the district of Ostprignitz-Ruppin had invited to an information evening. What was informed was 100 meters from the event tent: a hotel ruin that has been empty for years. The district wants to set up refugee accommodation there with up to 150 places.
In addition to the project itself, the type of communication caused resentment. In January, the county announced the plan as a settled fact. The news hit the residents out of the blue: “We were in shock for three days,” says a resident. The mayor of Rheinberg, Frank-Rudi Schwochow (BVB Freie Wahler), tried to prevent the plan: with lawsuits, his own information events and social media videos. More than 20 articles appeared on the dispute, most recently a long one Research of the MAZ.
Around 150 people attended the information evening. While the questions to District Administrator Ralf Reinhardt (SPD) became more and more critical, a man in a blue suit stood a little to the side. It was the owner of the hotel, one of the two “long-term partners” of the district who had often stood by the district since 2015, as the district administrator said appreciatively.
Five million euros since 2015 and indications of preferential treatment
No matter what the motivation for this willingness to help was, it was worth it for the business people: they have received around five million euros from the district since 2015. If the planned refugee accommodation in Flecken-Zechlin is realized, another five million euros will flow. Many clues allow a suspicion of favoritism:
- The two bought properties four times, which shortly afterwards became refugee homes. Since 2015, they have received around three million euros in rent payments.
- When two homes were used for a shorter time than planned, the district paid compensation totaling 1.6 million euros. Whether these payments were mandatory is unclear.
- The district did not rent a building directly from the owner, but only through the business people. They leased the building and rented it out for three times as much. The additional costs amount to more than 500,000 euros.
- The district keeps the contracts with the businessmen under lock and key. County deputies saw their right to inspect files drastically restricted. To this day, the administration has ignored requests for access to the files from the press.
For the article we name the two entrepreneurs Schmidtke and Peters, the real names are available to the editors. In order to understand the suspicion of favoritism, the dealings of the two must be described in more detail. Before that, it should be noted that the behavior of Schmidtke and Peters is anything but discreet, on the contrary, it causes a stir.
Neighbors of the planned refugee home in Flecken-Zechlin report: The construction sign is not attached to the edge of the property, but to the building itself. You can only get there if you give your personal details to the security service. Workers are transported by minibus with Russian registration plates. Schmidtke and Peters themselves show up in different luxury cars and aren’t very courteous towards their neighbors.
Surprisingly well informed about lucrative deals
In November 2021, Peters bought the old hotel in Flecken-Zechlin with his company Lehmann Investment 2.0 GmbH. It has been vacant since 2012. In January 2022, the district announced that it wanted to set up a refugee home there. The purchase price was 470,000 euros, the annual rent from the district is between 480,000 and 504,000 euros.
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In the summer of 2015, Schmidtke acquired two training hotels from the locally well-known sponsor, the Neuruppin Youth Unemployment Initiative (IJN). These, too, became refugee shelters a short time later. The hotels were in other districts of Rheinsberg: Zechlinerhütte and Luhme. At the end of 2014, Schmidtke bought the former mother and child home of the German Red Cross (DRK) in Wusterhausen / Dosse via the company JXImmo GmbH. A few weeks elapsed between the purchase and rental as a refugee home to the district.
Regarding this information situation, the district press spokesman Alexander von Uleniecki says that “the real estate market in Ostprignitz-Ruppin is manageable and investors should not have any problems finding suitable properties without any so-called ‘insider knowledge’.”
Despite the lack of money, great concessions from the administration
The training hotels mentioned above cost a total of 1.8 million euros. Schmidtke and Peters only made a down payment of 70,000 euros and were thus able to agree leases with the district as owners. Thanks to the resulting rents – a total of 40,300 euros per month – they negotiated a hire purchase with the seller. They passed on the rents of the district one-to-one as loan installments.
The seller received ten percent interest on the loan granted, which increased the purchase price from 1.8 to 2.1 million euros. Schmidtke and Peters made a down payment of less than four percent, their real estate was paid off with the rent. A triangular deal with one loser: the district.
In addition, the district paid high compensation. As the number of refugees fell, the district gave up the shelters earlier than planned. The resulting loss of rent was compensated with a payment of EUR 1.6 million. Was the compensation necessary? According to the BGB, contracts can be adjusted if the business basis is lost: the number of refugees had changed significantly.
All in all, the business with the training hotels was brilliant for Schmidtke and Peters: They initially made an investment of 70,000 euros, four years later they had 1.6 million euros.
Brilliant real estate deals in Wusterhausen too
The already mentioned home in Wusterhausen also became a goldmine. In 2014 it bought Schmidtke’s company, JXImmo GmbH, for 300,000 euros. In 2020 it was resold for 732,000 euros. The buyer was Lehmann Europa GmbH, of which Peters is the managing director. The refugee home was sold again in 2022, this time for EUR 2.4 million. During this time, EUR 1.2 million in rent was paid. The home is now partly owned by a Berlin businessman who built gas turbines and pumping stations in the Middle East, Kazakhstan and Qatar.
The shareholders of Lehmann Europa are similarly spread: one company comes from the Upper Palatinate, one from South Korea and the third from Singapore. Managing director of this company is Jörg Walberer, former editor-in-chief of the magazines Gala and Hörzu. Refugee homes seem to be in demand with a wide variety of investors around the world.
District denies direct rental
An example allows the suspicion of favoritism: The owner of an inn in Klosterheide offered this to the district as refugee accommodation in 2014. But the district refused.
Schmidtke then leased the inn through a middleman and offered it to the district again. Despite triple the rent, the management agreed and paid 21,300 instead of 6,000 euros. In three years of use, the difference added up to almost 540,000 euros.
District MP and lawyer Hans-Georg Rieger confirms the process. When asked, the spokesman for the district said: “We cannot confirm the numbers. We don’t see a problem in dealing with public funds.” In addition, the condition of the inn would have made renting it impossible.
Intransparent information policy
The agreements between Schmidtke, Peters and the district are kept under lock and key. The administration granted only limited access to files to a handful of deputies from the district. An appointment only came about months later, was limited to one hour, only notes by hand were allowed, talking about the content was forbidden, there was a risk of fines. “If I’m not allowed to talk to anyone about it, how am I supposed to carry out my control task?” Complains district council member Siegfried Wittkopf.
The district says that the contents of the file can be “clearly grasped within the specified period with average reading ability”. The 71-year-old Wittkopf replies: “Can ten multi-page contracts be analyzed in one hour?” According to the district, all of this happened on a “legal basis”. The granted insight even supports the control, but the contents of the contract are “fundamentally non-public”.
The results of the research were presented to Schmidtke and Peters. Peters said these are “largely made up and completely false to the point of having no reality” and that the article was part of a “smear campaign”. Despite many letters, several emails and phone calls from his business partners, including Peters, Schmidtke could not be reached.
The Mayor of Rheinsberg, Frank-Rudi Schwochow, sees his skepticism confirmed by the publications of the MAZ and FOCUS online. He filed criminal charges with the LKAs in Brandenburg and Berlin, informed the Brandenburg Court of Auditors and the anti-corruption department based in Neuruppin.
The town of Fontane, however, is also known as Korruppin: in the mid-2000s, a local politician was convicted there of drug trafficking and illegal gambling. A head of the public utility company embezzled 600,000 euros in favor of a football club. The tradition seems to live on, only this time it’s about a few million euros.
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