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The head of Lazard in Sweden has been charged with aggravated bribery linked to a takeover of a Swiss company by engineering group Atlas Copco.
Swedish prosecutors allege that Gustaf Slettengren paid a bribe of €138,000 in 2016 to a prominent board member of OC Oerlikon Corporation for information as part of the sale by the Swiss group of its vacuum business to Atlas for €486mn the previous year.
Prosecutors have asked the district court to fine Lazard itself SKr1.5mn ($140,000) over the matter because of Slettengren’s status at the firm.
“The crime is serious considering that the bribe is of a very significant value,” prosecutor Leif Görts wrote in a court filing. “Gustaf Slettengren has, as managing director of the company, the authority to represent the company, make decisions on its behalf, and thus has a leading position.”
The payment to the board member Hans Ziegler was “improper”, Görts added, as it constituted “compensation for board information” he provided to the Lazard group, to be used “in connection with Lazard’s assignment to assist in a business acquisition” between Atlas and Oerlikon.
Slettengren did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The court document said he denied the allegations.
The bank said: “Lazard has co-operated fully with the investigation, and we await the outcome of the individual’s judicial proceeding.”
Atlas Copco said it did not comment on an ongoing case to which it was not a party.
Ziegler, a well-known director of a number of Swiss and German industrial companies, was convicted in 2021 in what was regarded as the biggest insider trading case ever in Switzerland. He received a suspended prison sentence of 22 months, a small fine, and confiscation of profits of SFr2mn ($2.3mn).
Swiss prosecutors alleged he used his insider knowledge about 11 companies to amass the profits through personal trading and passing on information to Lazard. A former Lazard banker was also convicted in the case but both were cleared of any bribery charges.
Swedish prosecutors said that the Covid-19 pandemic had delayed their investigation, and meant that any penalty would be lower than if the charges had been brought in a more timely manner.
Lazard has claimed that there is “extensive corporate secrecy” involved in the investigative report, according to the court documents, and has asked for confidentiality. Görts disputes this claim and is pushing for the case to be heard in public.
Atlas Copco has the highest market capitalisation of a listed company based in Sweden, and used the Oerlikon takeover to boost its vacuum business, one of its biggest growth drivers in recent years.
Additional reporting by Stephen Morris in London