Germans target nine suspects in HP bribery probe

MUNICH, April 15 Thu Apr 15, 2010 8:13am EDT

MUNICH, April 15 (Reuters) - German authorities say they have targeted nine suspects, including former staff of Hewlett-Packard Co (HPQ.N), in a probe into whether the world's top PC maker paid bribes to win business in Russia.

Prosecutors in the eastern German city of Dresden said on Thursday they had asked Russian colleagues to search HP offices in Moscow to check suspicions that around 8 million euros ($10.9 million) in bribes changed hands to win a contract.

"The case came to light here," a spokesman for the prosecutors' office in Dresden said. "The suspicion is that 8 million euros in kickback payments were made."

Russian prosecutors on Wednesday raided HP's Moscow offices at the behest of German authorities. [ID:nNLDE63D11]

Investigators became suspicious after an audit of a small company in the eastern German state of Saxony turned up money transfers that seemed to produce nothing real in return.

That led to what the spokesman called an international network of money transfers and prompted German officials to search HP premises in the southern town of Boeblingen and in Munich in early December.

He said investigators are examining a 35 million euro contract that HP won in 2000 to provide computers and software for criminal prosecutors in Moscow. The contract was wrapped up by 2007.

The unidentified suspects are under investigation for possible breach of trust, tax evasion and bribery of foreign officials, the spokesman said.

German prosecutors were awaiting documents seized in the searches in Moscow before deciding how to proceed.

HP said on Wednesday that a probe was under way but would not confirm specific charges.

"This is an investigation of alleged conduct that occurred almost seven years ago, largely by employees no longer with HP," the company said in a statement.

"We are cooperating fully with the German and Russian authorities and will continue to conduct our own internal investigation."

The case is the latest corruption probe to make headlines in Germany.

Carmaker Daimler (DAIGn.DE) last month agreed to pay $185 million to settle U.S. charges it showered foreign officials with money and gifts to win contracts, including in Russia. [ID:nN01141120]

Engineering group Siemens (SIEGn.DE) agreed in 2008 to pay $1.3 billion to end corruption probes in the United States and Germany. [ID:nGEE5B1110] (Reporting by Jens Hack; Additional reporting by Anastasia Teterevleva in Moscow and Gabriel Madway in San Francisco; Writing by Michael Shields; Editing by David Cowell) ($1=.7331 Euro)