UPDATE 2-Telekom Austria targets con-men to recover millions

Thu Feb 23, 2012 7:04am EST

* Q4 core profit 337 mln euros vs poll average 332 mln

* Q4 revenue 1.12 bln euros vs poll 1.10 bln

* Sees 2012 sales, core profit nearly matching 2011 levels (Recasts with comments from news conference)

By Michael Shields

VIENNA, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Telekom Austria AG wants to claw back 20 million euros ($26.5 million) from people suspected of bilking the company in a web of corruption scandals that have damaged its image, Chief Executive Hannes Ametsreiter said.

Near-daily headlines about allegations of slush funds, political payoffs and share price manipulation have beset Telekom Austria for months and prompted a separate round of discussion at its annual results news conference on Thursday.

Telekom will go after 20 people in cases "where payments are not matched by services", Ametsreiter told reporters. "Wherever there was illegal activity, we want the money back for the company."

Ametsreiter, who last year repaid a bonus he got thanks to a share price surge in 2004 that investigators are checking for possible market manipulation, denied any wrongdoing himself and said he had not considered resigning.

Markets shrugged off the uproar and sent Telekom shares 2.8 percent higher to 8.79 euros by 1133 GMT after it forecast 2012 sales and core profit could weather unrelenting price pressure and weak emerging European economies to nearly match 2011 levels.

It expected 2012 revenue of around 4.4 billion euros ($5.8 billion) and adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of around 1.5 billion, versus 4.46 billion and 1.53 billion, respectively, in 2011.

Ametsreiter said he expected a "decent" net profit in 2012 that would surpass 100 million euros. Analysts polled by Reuters expect on average net profit of 169 million.

TALKS WITH PECIK

It said it would sharpen its focus on stabilising operating free cash flow and customer service while rolling out new products and controlling costs and capital expenditure.

This would contribute 40 million euros to operating free cash flow this year and another 90 million in 2013.

Ametsreiter gave few clues about behind-the-scenes talks with an investor group led by Ronnie Pecik that has built a stake of just over 20 percent in Telekom, in which Austrian state holding company OeIAG has a 28.4 percent stake.

He said only there was a "good basis for communication" with Pecik, whose partner Naguib Sawiris said in a magazine interview he was a long-term investor in the group.

Fourth-quarter adjusted EBITDA fell 4.7 percent to 337 million euros, compared with the average estimate of 332 million in the Reuters poll.

It lost a net 321.5 million euros in the quarter -- worse than expected in the poll -- after taking a writedown linked to hyperinflation in Belarus, a market Ametsreiter said he had no immediate plans to exit.

The company operates in Austria, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia.

Telekom had been trading around 16.5 times 12-month forward earnings, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine, which weights analyst estimates by their previous accuracy. That is a premium to rival Deutsche Telekom on a multiple of 12. ($1 = 0.7552 euros) (Editing by Will Waterman)

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