Prague/Vienna - The American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has started to investigate the privatization of one of the major Czech banks, Česká spořitelna.
Two former Austrian bankers have decided to take legal action against the Austrian Erste Bank that won the Česká spořitelna privatization tender in 2000.
The bankers - Hans Leitner and Peter Andahazy - are accusing the Erste Bank of bribery and corruption.
They claim that the bank management was channeling bribes to politicians and officials when buying bank institutions in Central and Eastern Europe.
As Aktuálně.cz learned, among the bribed lawmakers are Czech top politicians who were in the cabinet of former Prime Minister Miloš Zeman (Social Democrats - ČSSD).
Zeman's government was in charge of privatizing the state stake in Česká spořitelna in 2000, which Erste Bank acquired.
The bankers who were laid off earlier this year by Erste Bank are set to file a lawsuit against the Erste Bank with the American Federal Court.
"Revenge for being fired"
The Erste Bank dismisses all the accusations, marking them as "lies and revenge" for being fired.
The Czech ministers who were in power under Miloš Zeman (1998-2002) deny all the accusations as well.
- The Erste Bank laid off the two bankers for money laundering and illegal gold sales earlier this year. However, the Austrian court acquitted both of them but Hans Leitner and Peter Andahazy would like to prove there had been corruption and bribery involved in the privatization of Central and Eastern European banks.
- "Our goal is to rehabilitate our names. We want to prove that they (Erste Bank) are the bad guys, not us. That is not possible in small countries, such as Austria, since the dirty business was happening exactly here. That is why we have decided to use the American law," Hans Leitner said.
- The bankers are preparing to file the lawsuit with the US Federal Court, as the Erste Bank is registered at the American stock market, having an American bank license.
- The bankers say their information comes from a reliable source - Leitner's father-in-law used to be a member of the Erste Supervisory Board and had access to exclusive information. He is gravely ill now, so he cannot testify.
- Miloš Zeman was the Social Democrat leader and Prime Minister of the Czech Republic between 1998 - 2002. He retired from politics in 2007.
Poised to prove their statements, Hans Leitner and Peter Andahazy hired American lawyers and are now preparing to file the complaint in the United States.
According to Aktuálně.cz's findings, the bankers have already met with FBI agents. The case should be formally opened at the beginning of next year.
New names and Macek
Leitner and Andahazy allege that the bribery and corruption case involves so far unknown names of the Czech top leaders.
"According to our information from the American lawyers there are new names of the Czech leaders that were involved in the whole transaction," Leitner told Aktuálně.cz.
"But we cannot publish the names at the moment, since we have to hand over all the documents to the American lawyers," Leitner added.
The Erste Bank management has not commented on the allegations, adding that they will pubslih an official statement as soon as they receive specific evidence proving the ex-bankers' accusations. "It is impossible to react to general accusations," says a statement sent to Aktuálně.cz.
Miroslav Macek is the only name linked to the privatization of Česka spořitelna and money being paid for the shady transaction. Eight years ago Czech journalists uncovered an agreement for his "consultation services", for which he was supposed to be paid 10 million CZK.
A consultation company CEBOC was believed to have paid the sum to Macek who was then the deputy chairman of the Civic Democrats (ODS). CEBOC was hired by the Erste Bank.
Soon after the case was made public, dentist turned politician Macek withdrew from politics for good.
Privatization and huge loss
The cabinet of Miloš Zeman sold the state stake in Česká spořitelna in December 2000 for 19 billion CZK (760 million eur).
In a bid to ease up the privatization, the state cleared Česká spořitelna of its bad loans and raised the capital. All that cost the state roughly 40 billion CZK.
To compensate for the loss the state sold toxic assets and loans through a debt consolidation agency.
Zeman's cabinet approved the privatization contract somewhat unanimously, as Aktuálně.cz learned.
Only deputy PM and trade minister Miroslav Grégr raised an objection over the price being too low.
"The price seemed too low to me. I told the government what I thought about the price but nothing happened," Grégr told Aktuálně.cz.
But he rules out that there would be any corruption involved in the privatization process. "I didn't notice anything like that," Grégr said.
Neither did former finance minister Pavel Mertlík, as he told Aktuálně.cz.