A Strabag employee under investigation in Kenya for alleged racist remarks and physical abuse against local workers has fled the country.
It has also emerged that the man, JÃ¼rgen (or Juergen) Hinteregger, had been deported from Malawi two years earlier after a complaint about an allegedly racist remark.
Yesterday police in Kenya’s Kirinyaga county said they would ask Interpol for help in bringing Hinteregger back to face the law. The Austrian flew home after detectives questioned him on on Saturday, 22 June.Â
They said "stern action" may be taken against Strabag’s management over the abscondment.
The investigation started after the workers’ union claimed Hinteregger repeatedly referred to them as "bushmen" and "idiots" and even physically abused some of them.
Police said six workers had given statements alleging Hinteregger engaged in verbal and physical abuse.
The head of Kirinyaga East police, Antony Wanjuu, told newspaper Daily Nation: "He was supposed to return on Monday [24 June] for further interrogation but failed to do so and escaped to his country of origin."Â
Wanjuu added: "We had told the management to ensure that the supervisor is brought back to the police station to answer to more questions but it did not heed to our instructions. Stern action may be taken against the management."
Vienna-headquartered Strabag confirmed to GCR today that Hinteregger, in charge of machinery at its €72m project building the Thiba Dam in Kirinyaga, had left Kenya.
The Strabag spokesperson described him as "a long-time employee of Strabag International", but declined to comment further.
"Management was only informed of the allegations shortly before the press reports were published. We will do everything we can to resolve the matter. Please understand that we cannot make any further comments until we have gained an overview of the situation," the spokesperson said.
The 45-month project in Kenya sees Strabag building the 40-metre-tall, 1-km-long dam about 130km northeast of Nairobi to create a reservoir to boost agriculture in the area. Work began in March 2018.
Meanwhile it has emerged that Hinteregger was reported to have been summarily deported from another East African country, Malawi, in March 2017, where Strabag was building a road.
According to Nyasa Times, police were told that Hinteregger shouted at a lorry driver who burst a tire by driving over metal bars, and called the driver a "monkey". Fellow workers threatened a boycott over the incident, said the Times.
Its report said Hinteregger was held in a police cell before being driven to the Tanzanian border at Songwe, from where he was ejected from the country.
According to another Malawian newspaper, The Times, Stabag’s in-country lawyer Wesley Mwafulirwa said "monkey" was not intended as a racist slur, being a common term for scolding in Austria.
The lawyer also complained about the authorities’ treatment of Hinteregger.
Strabag declined to comment on the Malawi reports.
In Kenya, Strabag’s senior manager James Karanja told Daily Nation that management didn’t know Hinteregger was going back to Austria.
"We were shocked when we learnt that he is not within Kenya," he said, adding that since Hinteregger was not under arrest, management could not control his movements.
"The police took duplicates of his passport and other documents which they wanted to peruse to establish whether he is legally in Kenya and they were supposed to monitor him," Karanja told Daily Nation.
Image: Â©GCR, illustration by Denis Carrier