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Alstom’s Swiss Banker Acquitted

A Swiss federal criminal court last week acquitted a private banker in Zurich of bribery and money laundering charges growing out of his relationship with French firm Alstom SA.

According to a report Thursday by Gabriella Broggi in BusinessWeek, Oskar Holenweger was charged with taking bribes of CHF1 million ($1.1 million) to open 163 anonymous bank accounts that Alstom used to bribe foreign officials.

After acquitting Holenweger, the Swiss court awarded him damages of more than CHF400,000 Swiss francs ($451,000).

The president of the Swiss court, Peter Popp, said none of the charges in the seven-year prosecution were supported by adequate evidence. “The question whether he knew that the money would be used for bribery remains unanswered,” Popp told BusinessWeek.

Prosecutors said Alstom used the Swiss accounts to pay CFH80 million ($90 million) in bribes to officials in South America and Asia to win work.

Paris-based Alstom provides equipment and services for power generation and high-speed rail transport. It operates in more than 70 countries with 93,000 employees. Revenue last year was about €23 billion. Its ADRs trade in the pink sheets under the symbol ALSMY.PK.

In March last year, the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office reported the dramatic arrest of three top Alstom executives from its British unit. They were suspected of paying bribes overseas to win contracts.

After those arrests, the company said:

Several Alstom offices in the United Kingdom have been raided on Wednesday 24 March [2010] by police officers and some of its local managers are being questioned. The police apparently executed search warrants upon the request of the Swiss Federal justice. Alstom has been investigated by the Swiss justice for more than 3 years on the motive of alleged bribery issues. Within this frame, Alstom’s offices in Switzerland and France have already been searched in the past years. Alstom is cooperating with the British authorities.

In August 2008, we reported that Swiss police had arrested a former Alstom manager and searched for evidence as part of a corruption and money-laundering investigation. Offices near Zurich and in Baden were raided, as were homes in several cantons.

Reports in May 2008 said Swiss authorities found evidence Alstom paid around €20 million via shell companies to agents and others in Singapore, Indonesia, Venezuela and Brazil. Reports also mentioned payments of $6.8 million in connection with a $45 million contract for the Sao Paolo subway and a Brazilian energy plant.

The DOJ and SEC haven’t commented on the Alstom case.

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