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Von Roll chief executive arrested

Von Roll hopes the accusations against its employee will be cleared up quickly Keystone

René Lüthy, chief executive at the Swiss materials technology group, Von Roll, is being held in a German prison for suspected involvement in a bribery scandal.

This content was published on July 29, 2002 - 07:51

In a statement on Sunday, Von Roll said Lüthy had been taken into custody on July 6 at Amsterdam's Schipol airport during a routine business trip and was being held in Germany's Rheinbach bei Bonn prison.

German authorities issued a warrant for his arrest on March 27.

The public prosecutor's office in Bonn said Lüthy was suspected of involvement in "a particularly serious bribery scandal".

"The Von Roll Group very much regrets the latest development in the investigation against one of its executives and hopes that these accusations will be quickly cleared up by the German authorities," the company's statement said. "The Von Roll Group is not involved in the proceedings."

Lüthy is accused of acting as an intermediary for money transfers between the engineering group, ABB, and Reiner Schreiber, an executive at Bonn's public utilities office.

ABB involvement

The transactions, which the authorities suspect may have been used as bribes, are reported to have taken place between 1996 and 1998. Investigators believe ABB used the money to buy information about an SFr68 million ($46 million) contract to construct a gas-fired power station in the former German capital.

Investigators are trying to determine whether ABB - which was later awarded the contract - gained a competitive advantage over its rivals by using the money to ascertain confidential information about the other companies bidding for the contract. They accuse ABB, Lüthy and Schreiber of unfair competition.

Swiss newspaper reports suggest ABB was able to avoid detection by passing money through a "relay station" in Switzerland, controlled by Lüthy.

A spokesman for ABB Germany told swissinfo its managers implicated in the deal had now left the company and it considered the matter closed. "There has been no employee of ABB Germany arrested in connection with the Lüthy case," Erwin Teichmann said.

House search

Following a request for judicial assistance, Swiss authorities searched Lüthy's home in Suhr on March 27, as well as Von Roll's headquarters in Zurich and offices in Solothurn. They confiscated a number of documents including some contracts which named the 59-year-old general director as an adviser.

German investigators are also believed to be examining whether Lüthy could have personally bribed Schreiber on a separate occasion in the early 1990s, when Von Roll Innova - a subsidiary of Von Roll - won a lucrative contract to build a waste disposal facility in the German city.

Prosecutors are also attempting to shed light on a Zurich bank account, held in Schreiber's name and containing €1.5 million (SFr 2.17 million).

Appeal

An initial appeal made by Lüthy against his detention was rejected, but another has since been lodged with the high court in Cologne. Authorities say he is being kept in custody because they fear that if released he will try to escape prosecution.

Lüthy has been employed at Von Roll for more than 20 years and in April asked to be freed from his managerial commitments so he could concentrate on his defence.

The company said it hoped the matter would be "quickly cleared up by the German authorities".

swissinfo with agencies

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