* Swiss court shines light on major Czech privatisation deal
* Half a billion euros held by Swiss authorities
* Swiss court acts after Czech probes bring no result
By Oliver Hirt and Jan Lopatka
ZURICH/PRAGUE, Oct 11 (Reuters) - A Swiss court has found a group of Czech managers guilty of money laundering and fraud in a case involving one of the biggest post-communist privatisation scandals that led to the seizure of half a billion euros in Swiss banks.
The federal court in the southern Swiss town of Bellinzona handed the five Czech managers sentences ranging from 16 to 52 months in a verdict announced late on Thursday.
A Belgian man, Jacques de Groote, a former official at the International Monetary Fund who cooperated with the Czech managers, was found guilty of fraud but not given a prison term.
The court ruled that the managers had conspired to gain control of Czech lignite miner Mostecka Uhelna Spolecnost (MUS) from 1997 to 2003, using the firm's own money to buy its stock and then buying the remaining stake cheaply from the government.
They used a web of accounts, some in Switzerland, to facilitate their dealings, according to prosecution documents.
The verdict brings a resolution to one of a series of murky privatisation deals conducted in the Czech Republic in the past two decades since the fall of communism.
Repeated Czech investigations into the case, which involves several prominent Czech investors, came to nothing, upsetting Swiss authorities and prompting critics to suggest impotence or bias on the part of the authorities in Prague.
The Swiss court took up the case at a time when Switzerland is trying to clean up its image as a haven for ill-gotten gains.
The MUS case has also come under renewed scrutiny in Prague following the appointment of new prosecutors. They charged the managers last year but the next course of their investigation is unclear following the Swiss convictions.
The Czechs are also investigating a former government official they believe may have been bribed in the MUS deal.
MUS has since been sold on to other owners and now operates under the names Czech Coal and Severni Energeticka.
Defence lawyers for the Czech managers - five of whom were convicted of money laundering and four of them also of fraud - said they would consider appealing against the verdicts.
"The defendants continue to insist on being innocent," said lawyer Karolina Zelenkova.
The Swiss government has frozen 660 million Swiss francs ($724.56 million) related to the case, which legal sources said had involved one of the authorities' most complex money-laundering investigations to date.
It is yet to decide on the fate of the seized cash.
The Czech Finance Ministry hopes to get a share of the frozen funds, saying the country had suffered financial damage.
"We see this as positive that the court... handed out jail sentences, and that it (the verdict) included acknowledgement of damage done to the state," said a ministry spokesman in Prague.
Czech President Milos Zeman, who was prime minister at the time the state sold its remaining stake in the miner, gave evidence to Czech police this year in connection with the case.
Zeman said he had seen nothing wrong with the sale, according to a transcript seen by Reuters.
Former Mostecka representative Antonin Kolacek, who received the longest 52-month sentence, has since quit business and has converted to Buddhism.
"I am ready for any verdict," he told Czech daily Mlada fronta Dnes before the ruling. "I prepared by meditating, walking hills around here, drumming, exercising and dancing." (Editing by Gareth Jones)