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Millions smuggled out of East Berlin in 1990s to be returned

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Millions smuggled out of East Berlin in 1990s to be returned
Steindling in court in 2003 Photo: DPA
13:07 CEST+02:00
A court has ordered the return of more than €230 million which was smuggled out of Eastern Germany during the financial chaos of the early 1990s and laundered in an Austrian bank.

The money disappeared from the East Berlin trading company Novum, which belonged to the state, and is said to have been transferred to the then Österreichische Landesbank in 1992, shortly after reunification.

The then head of Novum, Rudolfine Steindling is accused of having moved the millions through an Austrian bank – now known as Bank Austria – and into a host of new accounts before anonymously investing it. The money has never been found.

Steindling spent much time in court during the 1990s, charged with creaming off millions from Novum and passing it to the Austrian communist party which had close ties to East Germany's communists. She always argued that the money belonged to East Germany's SED party, not the company.

The administrative body looking after the money belonging to the East German state after reunification, sued Bank Austria for the money in 1994, accusing it of being complicit in the money laundering.

Because Steindling transferred the money to accounts based in Switzerland, the legal arguments took place before a court in Zurich.

Now the court has ruled the money must be returned to Germany, according to reports in the Focus magazine and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, although Bank Austria immediately said it would appeal the decision.

Should the appeal be rejected, the money would be paid to the eastern German state governments.

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