28 de enero de 2015 / 18:29 / en 3 años

UK Alstom bribery investigation swings spotlight onto Hungary

LONDON, Jan 28 (Reuters) - British prosecutors are investigating whether subsidiaries of Alstom, the French power and transport company at the centre of an international corruption inquiry, committed offences in Hungary, a London court heard on Wednesday.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has already charged two UK-based Alstom subsidiaries and four former employees with corruption, alleging they disguised bribes as consultant fees to win lucrative contracts in India, Poland, Tunisia and Lithuania.

Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith told Southwark Crown Court during a pre-trial hearing that the SFO investigation could include a third phase in Hungary. However, he noted that element of the inquiry was uncertain as charges had yet to be filed.

The SFO, which charged Alstom Network UK last September over alleged bribery in India, Poland and Tunisia and charged Alstom Power Ltd in December over alleged bribery in Lithuania, said only that its investigation was continuing.

“We are aware of the SFO’s investigations,” said a spokeswoman for Alstom SA, declining to comment further on an ongoing investigation.

The British prosecution follows a string of investigations launched from the United States to Brazil and Switzerland into Alstom and its subsidiaries’ dealings in countries stretching from Poland to India, Indonesia, China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Bahamas since at least 2000.

The French parent, Alstom SA, in December agreed to pay a record $772.3 million fine after pleading guilty to violating the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

But in Britain, the Alstom subsidiaries are seeking to have the charges against them dismissed, partly for technical legal reasons and because one suspect remains in Switzerland and has not volunteered to come to London for interviews.

If the dismissal applications fail, the first trial has been scheduled for May 2016 and is expected to last between six and eight weeks.

Alstom, which has seen power equipment orders sink since the credit crisis, is selling most of its energy arm to U.S. giant General Electric to raise cash. It plans to expand its rail business, cut debt and buy back stock.

Additional reporting by Andrew Callus in Paris, editing by David Evans

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