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Former Commercial Bank boss found guilty in absentia

Former Commercial Bank boss found guilty in absentia
The former board member of Commerzialbank Mattersburg appeared in court, Pucher did not.
Image: (APA/HANS KLAUS TECHT)

Ex-board member Franziska Klikovits received a conditional eight months, and an ex-employee who is said to have blackmailed the two of them for 70,000 euros received a conditional 16 months. Pucher was not present in court for health reasons.

70,000 euros of “hush money” demanded?

A partial aspect of the bankruptcy was negotiated. The ex-employee, who held a leading position at Commerzialbank, is said to have noticed that something was wrong with the loans. When he wanted to leave the bank in 2017 after a dispute with Klikovits, he is said to have demanded 70,000 euros from Pucher – “something like hush money,” said the public prosecutor. Klikovits prepared the money from the bank’s funds and the bank boss handed it over to the ex-employee in an envelope, according to the indictment by the Economic and Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (WKStA). Fake loans were an essential part of the bank’s years of malpractice.

Pucher and Klikovits confessed to the accusation of embezzlement. The first accused employee denied having blackmailed the two. However, the jury found all three guilty. In addition to the suspended prison sentence, the ex-employee was also sentenced to a fine of 9,600 euros. He also has to pay the 70,000 euros to the bank’s liquidator. The probationary period is three years for all of them. The judgment is not final.

Cash and golden handshake

“It is symptomatic that even the hush money was not paid from Pucher’s private assets, but the Commerzialbank had to help out as well,” emphasized the public prosecutor. The employee received the cash in addition to a golden handshake of around 200,000 euros gross. Large cash deposits were also recorded in his account close to the handover.

Pucher, who apologized for health reasons, remains committed to his admitted responsibility, explained judge Karin Lückl. He agreed to the trial and sentencing regarding his person in his absence and apologized for the damage caused by misversations. Klikovits also pleaded guilty to contributing to embezzlement. The ex-employee, who is accused of extortion and embezzlement, denied all allegations.

“Revenge of a petty dictator”

The statements of the former bank boss and the board member that incriminate him are not credible. “Both Klikovits and Pucher have lied and cheated for decades. Why should that change now?” said the ex-employee’s defense attorney. He assumes that it was a “revenge action” by the bank boss, who was a “little dictator” and resented him for quitting.

The former employee – who was, among other things, a branch manager and authorized signatory – denied having blackmailed Pucher when he left the bank. He emphasized that he only spoke to him in mid-December 2017 about the modalities for ending the employment relationship, such as severance pay. The defendant also denied that he had noticed anything suspicious going on in the bank or that he had expressed any suspicions about it to colleagues. He could not provide any information about the loan agreements; he had no access to them.

“Years of bullying” by the board

He resigned from the institute because there had been years of bullying by the board. The specific trigger was an unauthorized vacation and a warning from Klikovits, he explained. In a conversation with Pucher, which included this warning, Pucher even took his side, the defendant admitted. According to the judge, Pucher said: “That one over there (Klikovits, editor’s note) should go shit.” The former branch manager described his boss as “difficult” and a person who did not tolerate any contradiction. The ex-employee was accused of having paid 57,000 euros in cash close to the end of his employment relationship. The defendant explained that this money came, among other things, from gold sales.

Lückl read statements from Pucher’s interrogation. Accordingly, Pucher explained that, in addition to his settlement, the now accused demanded and received 70,000 to 90,000 euros in cash that Klikovits had taken from the non-real money circuit. The ex-employee is said to have asked him about irregularities in his loans, which he perceived in retrospect as “blackmail”. In another conversation, the defendant explained to him that he had documented suspicious events and that Pucher had to be careful not to end up in prison. The former branch manager contradicted this information.

Small amount compared to the total damage

Klikovits confessed that she had prepared the 70,000 euros for the employee. She is in the process of “relentlessly disclosing” the malversations, said her lawyer. There is no reason why it should unfairly burden the employee. The sum of 70,000 euros is small compared to the total damage at Commerzialbank. “It’s like having spent 1,000 euros and then being asked what those ten cents were for,” said the defense attorney.

In her interview, Klikovits confirmed that Pucher asked her to get 70,000 euros: “So that he (the ex-employee, editor’s note) keeps his knowledge to himself.” She gave the amount to the former bank boss in an envelope, which he in turn handed over to the suspected blackmailer in the SVM Cafe. She herself was not present at the handover. Pucher was “very tense” and it was important to him that she raise the money. The last time she saw the former bank executive was on July 14, 2020 – the day the institute was closed. Klikovits was unable to determine who had filed the anonymous report in 2015. She doesn’t believe that the whistleblower was the first defendant because he was a “beneficiary of the Pucher system.”

Messenger driver took photos in the office

Among those questioned in the afternoon was a former Commerzialbank delivery driver, whose cell phone contained photos from Pucher’s office. The witness explained that he was always the first to take a tour in the morning and, out of curiosity, took pictures of various documents. According to the witness, he did not send it to the person accused of extortion, only to his wife.

A former board secretary described the relationship between Pucher and Klikovits: “They didn’t speak to each other at the time. Notes were left behind.” Her relationship with her two superiors was also “not the best,” and she went to work with a “stomachache.”

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