Swiss banker charged in French firm bribe probe

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The Swiss federal prosecutor's office said Thursday that it has formally accused a Swiss private banker of laundering and managing corruption money for a "French industrial group."

Sources close to the case identified the group as engineering giant Alstom, which confirmed in March that it had been targeted by a three year Swiss investigation into alleged bribery.

The company has denied wrongdoing.

Alstom is suspected of being behind bribes worth 500 million Swiss francs (344 million euros) to secure public tenders in Asia and South America between 1995 and 2003, Swiss authorities have said.

Brazilian, British and French authorities have also been involved in the probes.

The private banker was also charged with money laundering related to drug trafficking, the prosecutor's office said in a statement on Thursday.

Although it only identified him as "private banker H," he was named as Oskar Holenweger, former head of Tempus Privatbank in Zurich, in a Swiss parliamentary inquiry more than two years ago.

Charges of money laundering, fraudulent management, and corruption of foreign officials were filed with Switzerland's Federal Criminal Court on Wednesday, the statement said.

Prosecutors underlined that the bulk of the case related to slush funds "H" allegedly set up for the industrial group, which were uncovered after the banker was detained in 2003 on suspicion of helping Colombian drug cartels.

"The investigations revealed that the accused had transferred funds from the industrial group in order to set up slush funds; he had managed important sums on the accounts of offshore companies for this group," the statement said.

"The funds were earmarked for their final destination upon the instructions of representatives of the group. They were mainly used to subjugate people in order to acquire markets and create projects abroad," it added.

Alstom specialises in power plants and railways. It has offices in 70 countries with more than 80,000 employees.

© 2010 AFP

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