Wanted banker held ‘valuable information’ about Russia, Ukraine

Peter Weinzierl is alleged to have conspired with Odebrecht so it could pay bribes across South America. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON - US officials investigating international money laundering believed a senior Austrian banking executive held “valuable information” about individuals in Russia and Ukraine, one of his colleagues has testified.

Peter Weinzierl, the former chief executive officer of Meinl Bank AG, was arrested on US charges at a London airfield after piloting his private jet into the country in May last year.

He says he was “lured” by an intelligence agent to Britain from where he could be more easily extradited to the US.

Weinzierl, who faces charges over his alleged role in a giant Brazilian corruption scandal, resumed his extradition battle in a London courtroom on Wednesday, after a fellow banker testified about meetings with the US agent. 

An ex-Meinl banker, Mr Matvei Hutman, who oversaw asset management and private banking at the lender, said in a court filing that the agent actually wanted to force Weinzierl to give up “valuable information about persons of interest in the CIS region, particularly in Ukraine and Russia”.

The agent, who was born in Ukraine, “enticed” Weinzierl to London, Mr Hutman said following a series of meetings with officials from the FBI and the US Department of Justice that stretch back as far as 2014.

The officials were particularly interested in money flows through Latvian shell companies, the Meinl banker said.

Ms Rosemary Davidson, a lawyer acting for the US authorities, said there was no evidence to support Mr Hutman’s claim of a hidden motive for the extradition. 

“The government has confirmed that there was a proper basis to send a request for provisional arrest to the United Kingdom,” Ms Rosemary Davidson said.

She didn’t say if the individual was a US intelligence agent or not.

Weinzierl is alleged to have conspired with Brazil-based Odebrecht so it could pay bribes across South America.

Federal prosecutors say the banker and another official helped move about US$170 million (S$233.02 million) from accounts in New York through the bank to offshore shell accounts.

Weinzierl has denied the allegations.

The banker said the US government now accepts that the documents and records behind the critical transactions show a “legitimate business case”, his lawyers said. 

The back-to-back transactions were said to disguise the creation of an Odebrecht slush fund.

Weinzierl’s lawyers say the US government have since conceded that they were “structured as legitimate transactions”. BLOOMBERG

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