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Four Arrested in Austrian Money-Printer Bribe Investigation

Austrian authorities arrested four people last week over suspicions the country’s money printer paid bribes to get new business and that executives received kickbacks, according to lawyers for two of the accused.

Oesterreichische Banknoten- und Sicherheitsdruck GmbH’s former Chief Executive Officer Michael Wolf was the most senior person arrested over the allegations last week, his lawyer, Manfred Ainedter, said in a telephone interview. Wolf was fired Oct. 28 by the Austrian central bank, which owns the printer, citing “suspicions of unlawful actions.”

The printer’s former head of marketing, who was fired along with Wolf, and two lawyers were the other people arrested, according to Ainedter and Rudolf Mayer, who represents one of the arrested lawyers. The arrests were reported by Austrian newspaper Kurier Nov. 5. Ainedter and Mayer said their clients reject the allegations. No charges have yet been filed.

Michaela Schnell, a spokeswoman for Vienna state prosecutors, declined to comment citing the ongoing investigation.

The Austrian central bank’s money-printing arm, which has produced banknotes since 1816 according to its website, also designs and prints notes for African, Asian and Latin American countries. It also sells engravers used to produce printing plates for banknotes and technologies to identify forgeries. Robert Kalina, the currency designer who created the euro area’s bills, worked at the company.

Bribes vs. Commissions

Executives at the printer may have paid as much as 14 million euros in bribes for new business from countries including Syria, newspaper Der Standard reported Oct. 28, citing an internal review of the central bank. Some of that money went back to accounts controlled by the lawyers who were arrested, Kurier reported.

The payments characterized as bribes were legitimate commissions that had been authorized by the printer’s supervisory board, Ainedter said.

The board is led by Austrian central bank deputy governor Wolfgang Duchatczek.

The central bank “is interested in a fast and comprehensive clarification of the proceedings -- which it initiated itself -- and will fully support the authorities,” the Vienna-based bank said in a statement today, declining to comment on details of the investigation.

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