A top officer of Europa Cruises Corp. is being held without bail while the Austrian government attempts to have him extradited in connection with a criminal investigation into an alleged $28-million stock manipulation scheme.
Ernst Walter, a Europa vice president and one of the company's three directors, was chairman of an Austrian family of mutual funds that until two years ago controlled the casino gambling/day cruise company that sails from several Florida ports.
Two of the Austrian mutual funds linked to the investigation are Austroinvest International and Serco International.
The investigation centers on stock manipulation allegations and fraud against the Bank of Luxembourg in a series of complex stock transactions. Some of the transactions involved shares in Europa, but details were sketchy Friday.
"Dr. Walter is vigorously maintaining his innocence," said John Fitzgibbons, his Tampa attorney.
The news hit hard at Europa headquarters in Madeira Beach, where Walter was arrested by U.S. Customs agents serving a warrant on behalf of the Austrian government. The arrest came shortly after the death of Victor Gersh, Europa's chief legal counsel.
"Despite our improved financial performance, this has not been a good month at Europa," said Deborah Vitale, Europa's chairman.
After the arrest, Europa's two other directors contacted Walter in the Hillsborough County Jail and asked him to resign. Walter declined.
Said Vitale: "What else is there to say other than my disbelief" at Walter's arrest?
She said the two other board members sought Walter's resignation "because it seemed to be in the best interest of company at the time."
Now she is not so sure because she fears that control of Europa's board could be on the line if Walter's spot is vacated.
Europa shares closed unchanged Friday at $1.31\ on the Nasdaq Stock Market. Walter's arrest was not announced until trading ended.
President Lester Bullock said the arrest will not affect the day cruise operation.