Expatica news

Corruption probe into Swiss banker and Alstom to end

24 June 2008

GENEVA – A Swiss federal judge said he has almost completed an investigation of a Zurich banker accused of helping French engineering company Alstom SA pay bribes to win international contracts.

Investigating magistrate Ernst Roduner said he would soon pass on his four-year investigation to federal prosecutors, who will decide whether to make an indictment.

The probe focuses specifically on Swiss banker Oskar Holenweger, and indirectly on the company saved from bankruptcy by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, he said.

“Alstom is involved in this case. It’s about payments that were made, but I cannot say more,” Roduner said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

“For me it will all be over in the coming months.”

French authorities said in May they questioned officials at Alstom as part of a probe into alleged corruption and misappropriation. The French judicial inquiry was opened in November 2007, following a tip-off received by Swiss authorities.

Switzerland said at the time it was examining accusations of bribery, money laundering and other offences against “persons associated with Alstom,” a maker of high-speed trains and power stations.

Walburga Bur, head of communication at the Swiss federal prosecutor’s office, said the payments were linked to the acquisition of infrastructure contracts in South America and Asia. Holenweger spent almost seven weeks in investigative custody but has rejected all accusations against him. Alstom, meanwhile, has said “no legal action for any such corruption has been instituted” against it.

Magistrate Roduner said the payments he is investigating were made in France, Switzerland and other countries he refused to identify by name. Witnesses have been questioned in France and Switzerland, he said.

“It deals with Alstom among others, but no other companies are involved,” Roduner said.

He said the other involved parties were individuals in France, Switzerland and other developed countries. In February, a French investigative magistrate questioned Alstom’s general counsel and its compliance chief, company spokesman Stephane Farhi said.

Bribes to officials in developing countries used to be common practice for big European firms. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development called for the practice to be outlawed in 1997, which France did in 2000. Such payments are legal in Switzerland as long as they are properly declared.

Alstom was rescued in the 2004 state bailout brokered by Sarkozy, then finance minister.

[AP / Expatica]