Kulterer eyes custody compensation claim

Former Hypo Group Alpe Adria (HGAA) chief Wolfgang Kulterer is considering asking for compensation over his three-month custody.The banker’s lawyer Ferdinand Lanker said today (Mon) he may ask for financial compensation for his client since he doubted the righteousness of his custody.Kulterer was arrested and put in custody in Klagenfurt in August before being released last week after a bail of 500 million Euros was paid by an unnamed source. Investigators held him responsible for losses suffered by the bank especially between 2004 and 2006. Kulterer headed the institute – which was nationalised last year – between 1992 and 2006.Lanker has stressed ever since Kulterer’s arrest that juridical officials did not have strong enough evidence to force his client to await his trial behind bars. He pointed out that Kulterer had always cooperated with investigators. Lanker also said there was no chance for Kulterer to get hold of HGAA documents in an alleged attempt to cover up the malpractices of which he was accused.Kulterer faces embezzlement charges in a trial which is expected to begin over the next few months. If found guilty of having peculated more than 50,000 Euros, Kulterer and other defendants could be jailed for up to 10 years. He is accused of failing to apply stricter regulations on the bank’s careless lending policy. HGAA could have financed the Croatian troop’s armament and a string of disputed real estate projects by high-profile businessmen and politicians in Croatia and other countries, according to reports.Austrian police and prosecutors are currently investigating more than 50 suspects across Europe, but Kulterer is the only one who has been put in custody so far.Some business newspapers and magazines have cast doubt over whether it was right to arrest Kulterer. Columnists claim investigations would concentrate too much on the ex-HGAA boss and possibly overshadow malpractices between 2006 and 2009.The bank had three different bosses after Kulterer and before the Austrian government coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the People’s Party (ÖVP) decided to step in. It was acquired by Germany’s BayernLB (Bayerische Landesbank) for 1.62 billion Euros in 2007. BayernLB lost around 3.7 billion Euros in its engagement. HGAA was eventually nationalised in December 2009.Bernhard Gaber, head of the special SoKo Hypo commission looking into the business scandal, vehemently dismissed claims authorities working too slowly.”The bank’s international network is a big challenge. What we are looking at is a bank with 350 branches in 12 countries,” he said, adding that Austria’s high bank secrecy has turned out as a burden for his team in some regards.Meanwhile, HGAA’s new CEO Gottwald Kranebitter caused a stir by informing all of the bank’s employees in a letter that the institute will not press charges against them if they report previously committed business crimes they were involved in.Kranebitter is also pressing on with selling some of the bank’s flagship real estates like the Schlosshotel Velden, a palatial hotel located at Carinthia’s Wörther Lake which is well known as a location for various TV series and films.Karl Wlaschek, who is the sixth-richest Austrian with an estimated private fortune of 3.3 billion Euros, reportedly signalled interest in the property. The 93-year-old businessman founded leading supermarket chain Billa in 1953.Kranebitter said HGAA may withdraw from some of the countries in the Central and Eastern European (CEE) region. He expressed his ambition to sell the bank at a profit in 2012.The European Commission (EC), however, said it doubted whether HGAA would ever be profitable again considering its debts and credit responsibilities.The Klagenfurt-based institute, which needed hundreds of millions of state aid since nationalisation, suffered net losses of 449 million Euros in the first six months of this year.