Four convicted in Telekom Austria corruption trial

VIENNA Fri Aug 9, 2013 2:24pm EDT

VIENNA Aug 9 (Reuters) - A Vienna court convicted a former Telekom Austria top manager and a senior advertising executive on Friday of cheating the company out of 600,000 euros ($801,000) that prosecutors said was covertly channelled to a right-wing party in 2004.

Ex-Deputy Chief Executive Rudolf Fischer was given a three-year jail sentence - all except for six months suspended - and Gernot Rumpold three years behind bars in the case, the third in a slew of corruption probes linked to Telekom Austria to reach court.

The court ordered the two to repay the company all the money plus interest, Austrian media reported.

Prosecutors said Rumpold received the money in return for fake consulting reports he drew up, and used it to replace funds he was owed by the Freedom Party (FPO) of late firebrand Joerg Haider, who died in a car crash in 2008.

They said Fischer helped arrange the payments to win the favour of Haider, whose party was at the time part of a coalition government with conservatives.

Two other defendants were given lesser sentences in the breach of trust and perjury trial, and one was acquitted. Rumpold's attorney filed an appeal and Fischer was considering one.

The case highlights stepped up efforts in Austria to end the kind of practices that let public officials for years dip into funds of former monopoly Telekom Austria for their own ends. Local media have dubbed the company the "political ATM".

Prosecutor Herbert Harammer had argued in his closing arguments that the authorities needed a wake-up call.

"We have to show potential wrongdoers in the corporate boardrooms and party headquarters that breaking the law will have tangible consequences," the Austria Press Agency quoted him as saying.

A new generation of prosecutors, politicians and investigative reporters is trying to change a culture of corruption in Austrian public life, where many deals were traditionally done on the back of friendships and favours.

The court ordered the FPO - which in the meantime has split into two parties - to relinquish the 600,000 euros. The party said it would appeal against the ruling, which comes ahead of national elections in September.

No current Telekom Austria executives were involved in the trial. Fischer had already been sentenced to three years in jail for share price manipulation in the first Telekom Austria case to come to trial in February.

Telekom Austria was privatised in 2000 but is still 28 percent state-owned. A new major shareholder, Carlos Slim's America Movil, with nearly 24 percent of the company, came onto the scene last year.

($1 = 0.7490 euros) (Reporting by Michael Shields; editing by David Evans)

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