Bwin heads face probe

Paris/Vienna (Reuters) – The two heads of Austrian betting firm, arrested in France on Friday, are scheduled to appear before a judge near Paris on Monday afternoon, the company said.

Bwin’s joint chief executives, Manfred Bodner and Norbert Teufelberger were detained for questioning by French authorities on Friday over alleged breaches of French gaming laws and were held in custody over the weekend.

„They will appear in front of a examining magistrate in the late afternoon,“ bwin said in a statement.

A justice source said the two men were expected to be placed under formal investigation — the next formal step ahead of a possible trial.

The case, triggered by a complaint by French gambling company Francaise des Jeux, comes amid attempts by online operators to break national betting monopolies in Europe.

Gambling is a state monopoly in France and online betting firms are banned from seeking clients on French territory.

Bwin, which is shirt sponsor of French soccer club AS Monaco and which has sponsorship deals with several other French clubs, said on Friday that it had not violated European laws and considered itself in the right.

Monaco said at the weekend it would maintain its sponsorship arrangements with the Austrian company.

Bodner and Teufelberger were arrested on Friday as they prepared to give a news conference outlining a sponsorship deal with Monaco.

Bwin said it had held an extraordinary board meeting on Monday and that it fully supported its two chief executives.

„The modus operandi of the French authorities is incomprehensible to us,“ the firm said. „Our business operation is not in any way affected by these events.“

Meanwhile the betting firm is also contesting bans on taking sports bets in Germany. The German states of Bavaria, Saxony and Hesse all put bans on bwin’s business this summer.

Shares in the firm remained suspended from trade on the Vienna bourse on Monday after being first suspended on Friday.

„The shares will remain suspended until the situation has been clarified,“ said a spokeswoman for the exchange operator.

The arrests follow the recent detentions in the United States of the chairman of British online bookmaker Sportingbet and of the chief executive of rival firm BETonSPORTS, which have sparked fears of a U.S. crackdown on the industry.

Bodner and Teufelberger were flying to Paris before being brought to Nanterre, just outside Paris, bwin said. In Nanterre they are expected to be placed under formal investigation before being released on bail, a justice source said.

Under French law being placed under investigation is a preliminary step that can lead to trial but does not necessarily do so.

Asked if the shares could remain suspended until a hearing in a court in Paris scheduled for Tuesday, the spokeswoman said: „This could well be the case.“ shares were last traded at 25.65 euros on Friday having closed on Thursday at 26.70 euros.