Bpost audit uncovers bid-rigging on newspaper distribution contract
An internal audit at bpost has revealed that the Belgian postal company set up a bid suppression scheme to win a newspaper distribution contract, De Tijd and L'Echo report. The company also allegedly falsified documents to conceal the illegal bid rigging.
Bpost has been responsible for newspaper distribution in Belgium since 2015. The listed public company receives around 170 million euros in government subsidies each year to provide the service. An internal audit has now revealed that the company set up an illegal bid suppression scheme to secure the public tender for the period 2023-2027, De the two newspapers report.
The audit showed that bpost entered into illegal agreements with its competitor PPP and the newspaper publishing companies DPG Media and Mediahuis. In exchange for PPP's withdrawal from the tender, bpost allegedly agreed to pass on a share of the newspaper distribution to its competitor.
Bpost's former CEO Dirk Tirez and directors Nicolas Merie and Tom Vermeirsch were already dismissed at the end of 2021 following suspicions of irregularities in the awarding of the contract. The three were aware of and participated in the bid suppression scheme, according to the internal audit. The postal company also inflicted "active damage on the investigation by providing misleading information and falsified documents", the report says.
The audit describes a widespread culture of "poor compliance" within the company. Negligence and inadequate knowledge of internal codes of conduct allowed managers to break the rules and conceal their breaches.
"The audit is an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and strengthen our governance," said Audrey Hanard, chair of the bpost board. "We are scanning the whole organisation. If other practices come to light, we will investigate them with the same professionalism and thoroughness."
"It is now up to the board of directors and the executive committee to ensure that these recommendations are implemented with due consideration," federal minister of Public Enterprises Petra De Sutter said on Friday. She also referred to the future task of choosing a new CEO. "The new CEO of bpost must want to help create a renewed organisational culture in which compliance and internal control have an important place."
© BELGA PHOTO JONAS HAMERS