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Austrian central banker charged in bribe case

VIENNA (Reuters) - Vienna prosecutors charged nine people on Thursday, including the deputy governor of the Austrian National Bank, over suspected bribes in banknote contracts with Azerbaijan and Syria.

Wolfgang Duchatczek, 63, and the other suspects face charges of abetting breach of trust, bribery, money laundering and other crimes, prosecutors said in a statement.

The central bank had no comment on the move other than to say its supervisory board would meet on Tuesday to discuss it.

Duchatczek, who is chairman of the central bank's banknote printing unit, was not available for comment, but his lawyer, Gabriel Lansky, said the charges were baseless.

"The entire indictment sheet contains not a single bit of evidence that would incriminate Deputy Governor Duchatczek," he said in a statement, adding it was his client who had launched the investigation that brought the irregularities to light.

The central bank has said in the past that no members of the banknote unit's supervisory board were aware of any wrongdoing.

Duchatczek is set to leave office on July 11 as his term expires, a central bank spokesman said.

Prosecutors said an 18-month investigation had determined that the banknote unit and in some cases also the mint unit had agreed contracts for making banknotes and coins with Azerbaijan and Syria between June 2005 and June 2011.

"Officials of the national banks of Azerbaijan and Syria were assured 20 percent and 14 percent, respectively, of the order volume as compensation for awarding the contracts to (the banknote unit)," the statement said.

The bribes did not cost the banknote and minting units anything because they had arranged to have the money factored into the orders, the prosecutors said. In all the people placing orders got back 14 million euros in kickbacks via foreign accounts set up in offshore companies, prosecutors said.

The suspects, who face up to 10 years in jail if convicted, have 14 days to challenge the indictments.

(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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