Telekom Austria Ex-CEO, CFO Charged With Share Tampering

Former Telekom Austria CFO Stefano Colombo
Former Telekom Austria Chief Financial Officer Stefano Colombo is seen in this file photo taken in 2004. Photographer: Des Jenson/Bloomberg

Telekom Austria’s former chief executive and chief financial officers were charged today over allegations that they manipulated the company’s share price.

Former CEO Heinz Sundt and CFO Stefano Colombo face as many as 10 years in jail, Vienna’s state prosecutor said in a statement. They are among four ex-employees and a banker formerly contracted by Telekom Austria charged by prosecutors.

The charges stem from the alleged manipulation of Telekom Austria’s share price in February 2004 that allowed management to claim 9 million euros ($12 million) by exercising stock options. Sundt left Telekom Austria in 2006. Colombo followed a year later.

Lawyers representing Sundt and Colombo didn’t immediately answer requests for comment. Nobody answered the single telephone number listed for Heinz Sundt in the Austrian telephone book. Colombo, an Italian national, wasn’t listed.

“I very much appreciate the possibility to present the facts that I have about the employee stock ownership plan of Telekom Austria to an independent judge,” Johann Wanovits, the banker accused of helping manipulate the share price, said today in a statement. His lawyer, Rainer Rienmueller, said a central question in the case was weather the company suffered any damages.

Telekom Austria, which has been cooperating with the prosecutors’ investigation, said Feb. 23 that it sought the return of 20 million euros worth of improperly paid bonuses.

‘Biggest Mistake’

Another manager charged by prosecutors, former deputy CEO Rudolf Fischer, has offered to repay money paid to Wanovits’s brokerage to carry out the stock-price manipulation and has already “to a good extent” compensated Telekom Austria, his lawyer said in a statement, adding that today’s charges were “legally amiss.” Fischer, who has called the experience “the biggest mistake in my life,” left the company in 2008.

Sundt, Colombo and Fischer declined to comment in March and April before an Austrian parliamentary probe into alleged share-price manipulation at the company.

The prosecutors are investigating about 40 people in relation to Telekom Austria, according to the statement. “Additional charges are to be expected,” they said.

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