Alpine Bau Chief Probed over Albanian Highway Deal

Austrian prosecutors are reviewing evidence uncovered by BIRN about a mysterious offshore company suspected of involvement in bribing an Albanian official.
 
Dietmar Aluta helmet 320x240

Dietmar Aluta-Oltyan Photo by: Michel Heidi / Verlagsgruppe News / picturedesk.com

 

Austrian prosecutors allege that Dietmar Aluta-Oltyan, arguably the most powerful figure at the now bankrupt Austrian construction company Alpine Bau, was involved in bribing an unnamed Albanian official through a 575,000 euro consultancy fee paid to Cypriot-based Windforce Estate Limited in 2009.

The allegations dovetail with evidence published by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network last December, showing the Austrian firm, which went bankrupt in June 2013, made suspicious payments to the same mysterious offshore consultancy firm in 2012. Austrian prosecutors claim the payment in 2009 was connected to Alpine Bau’s 28 million euro deal to build the Dames-Tepelene highway in Albania

The firm won the tender despite not providing the best offer, the Austrian magazine Kurier claimed in a report on Monday. The contract signed in 2008 stipulated a completion date of 2011. However, the project was beset by problems and was only completed this year with a huge but unspecified overspend. By 2011, the cost had climbed by 6 million euro, a report from Albanian auditors said.

A prosecution spokesman told BIRN that an investigation was opened this summer into seven men, including Aluta-Oltyan, for embezzlement, aiding embezzlement and bribing a foreign official. He said: “There is a suspicion that there was no services [provided] for the payments [to Windforce Estate] and that the payments were partly used to bribe Albanian officials.”

He declined to provide more details about the allegations but confirmed that the report in Kurier newspaper was accurate. He added that while the initial information for their investigation had emerged from a commercial court case in Vienna, prosecutors were closely considering BIRN’s earlier revelations. Aluta-Oltyan denies wrongdoing. His lawyer, Felix Klement, told Kurier that Aluta-Oltyan was not involved in the Albanian deal, bar receiving two emails.

“Alpine was the best bidder. The payment was not a bribe but served as payment for a Greek subcontractor who took over the project,” he said.

Unknown owner:
 

BIRN’s investigation revealed that the Albanian branch of Alpine Bau transferred 1.4 million euros to Windforce Estate Limited in 2012.

A Deloitte auditors report, obtained by BIRN, which questioned the transfers, said Windforce provided no proof of the work carried out. It failed Alpine Bau in its audit for the financial year 2012 as a result. The payments made to Windforce throughout 2012 were for work including “acting and advising, material assistance in any meetings, discussions and briefings”, invoices obtained by reporters said.

The real owner of Windforce is not known but the auditors noted that the recipient of the payments and sole shareholder in the company died in a Greek hospital in April 2013. As a result, the firm was unable to provide further details of the services it had provided. Apostolos Christellos, a senior figure in Alpine Bau involved in the project and a friend of Dietmar Aluta-Oltyan, died in Greece on March 29, 2013. Antonios Papantoniou, a Cypriot lawyer and Windforce Estate’s current director and part-owner, said he managed more than different 500 firms, adding he did not believe Christellos was the owner.

“I don’t know who the real owner is. But I think that person you are talking about [Christellos] has nothing to do with it,” he said.

Christellos had been head of Alpine Bau Greece and was directly involved in the negotiations on the Dames-Tepelene road between Alpine Bau, the Albanian General Roads Directorate in January 2012.

He received a eulogy from the Austrian embassy in Greece on his death. Earlier he received a state honour from Austrian President Heinz Fischer.

The Austrian prosecution office would not confirm or deny whether Christellos was implicated in the investigation.

Balkan Insight

01 October 2015