ÖBB offices raided over slush money suspicion

Offices of Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) and the apartments its of ex-managers were raided last night (Mon) amid suspicions of bribery connected to the takeover of a Hungarian railway company.The Viennese Anti-Corruption Prosecution announced today (Tues) it was asked by Hungarian officials to assist in investigating the case regarding ÖBB’s acquisition of MAV Cargo. The Hungarian firm is now a subsidiary of ÖBB’s Rail Cargo Austria (RCA). According to reports both offices at the ÖBB headquarters in Vienna-Favoriten as well as private estates of former decision-makers were searched.Hungarian investigators suspect ÖBB bosses of having transferred around seven million Euros of possible slush money to a Budapest-based consulting agency shortly ahead of the takeover of MAV Cargo in 2008. ÖBB paid 400 million Euros to acquire the company from the Hungarian government.ÖBB spokesman Michael Wimmer stressed today the company was willing to “fully cooperate” with officials to clear up the issue.ÖBB boss Christian Kern explained recently that RCA’s activities would “be standing on the brink” after the subsidiary lost 650 million Euros in capital during the past three years. He explained the department was only able to cover 30 to 40 per cent of its costs.Kern said federal political leaders must think about whether they still wanted ÖBB’s cargo services. He called for a clear statement in favour of ÖBB after a series of pledges by the government that it wanted to shift more cargo operations from the road to the railway.News that offices and flats were raided come after Kern announced plans to reduce the firm’s number of managers by 100 and get rid of 1,000 of its administration department staff by 2013. Most of these reductions will occur by not hiring new employees after current staff retire. ÖBB has around 42,000 employees. Many of them cannot be dismissed due to generous contracts agreed upon over the past decades. The average age of retirement in the company is 52.ÖBB – which is partly owned by the state – has debts of around 12 billion Euros. Kern, who took office in June, said he wanted to get ÖBB back in the black by 2013.The struggling company faces new competition on one of its most important routes as Hans Peter Haselsteiner announced his WestBahn project will start operating between Salzburg and Vienna in December 2011. The head of market-leading building company Strabag SE managed to get Benedikt Weibel on board to mastermind planning the upcoming operation. The Swiss manager headed Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) between 1993 and 2006.