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Austrian central banker suspended in bribe case
June 18, 2013 / 11:38 AM / 4 years ago

Austrian central banker suspended in bribe case

* Deputy governor, eight others indicted by prosecutors

* Duchatczek denies any wrongdoing

VIENNA, June 18 (Reuters) - Austria’s central bank suspended its deputy governor on Tuesday while it reviews charges that he turned a blind eye toward shady banknote printing contracts with Azerbaijan and Syria in deals that got him and eight others indicted last week.

The Austrian National Bank said its General Council, which acts as a supervisory board, had suspended Wolfgang Duchatczek with immediate effect and would consider additional steps at its next meeting on June 27.

Governor Ewald Nowotny will take on Duchatczek’s duties in the meantime, it added in a statement.

Duchatczek has denied any wrongdoing in the case, which dragged the central bank into a nationwide crackdown on corruption that has shaken confidence in Austria’s highest ranks of power and prestige.

“I had imagined my transition to retirement differently but I am innocent,” Duchatczek told the Kurier newspaper in an interview published hours before the board meeting.

Duchatczek, 63, is also chairman of the central bank’s banknote printing unit at the centre of the investigation into bribery, money laundering and other crimes. His term as deputy governor is set to expire on July 11.

Prosecutors said last week an 18-month investigation determined that the banknote unit and in some cases also a minting unit had agreed contracts for making banknotes and coins with Azerbaijan and Syria between June 2005 and June 2011.

Contract prices were inflated by as much as 20 percent to bribe central bank officials in the two countries, prosecutors have said, adding that people placing orders got back 14 million euros ($18.7 million) in kickbacks.

“I still don’t know if it was bribe payments,” Duchatczek told Kurier. “For me it was commissions for the initiation and implementation of printing deals in return for the work of agents on site.”

Duchatczek denied allegations that he not only knew of the kickbacks but also instructed management to sign the deals. He said the supervisory board had been reassured by management that the payments were legitimate.

Suspects in the case still have time to appeal against the indictments. ($1 = 0.7492 euros) (Reporting by Michael Shields, editing by Gareth Jones)

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