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René Benko before the investigative committee: New details of the Signa bankruptcy

René Benko before the investigative committee: New details of the Signa bankruptcy

Signa bankrupt René Benko is to answer questions publicly for the first time since the bankruptcy in an investigative committee in Vienna. Austrian MP Yannick Shetty announces new revelations.

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Mr. Shetty, in the past few weeks René Benko canceled his testimony three times. The committee is therefore threatening to have him brought before the police. Will he appear voluntarily at the appointment on Wednesday?
Benko has announced that after the three rejections he will appear voluntarily this time. We know that Parliament and the relevant authorities are in consultation with him and his lawyers on this. We therefore assume that Benko will definitely appear today – whether voluntarily or involuntarily. It is important to us as MPs to emphasize that it is Benko’s civic duty to accept the invitation of the investigative committee. He cannot choose whether he appears or not.

Benko has been in hiding for a long time since his company went bankrupt in the fall of 2023 and has not yet said a word about it publicly. What do you expect from his performance?
Benko’s statement is important. After all, he is the man responsible for the largest bankruptcy in Austrian history. For this reason alone, he has a responsibility to answer questions from the public. This is particularly true with regard to the allegations that there was influence on civil servants, politicians and public institutions. However, we assume that Benko will largely disagree with his statement.

So, because of the ongoing criminal investigations against him, he will exercise his right to refuse to testify.
That is also his right. A parliamentary investigative committee is not the public prosecutor’s office. But we also have questions about complexes in which, as far as we know, no criminal proceedings are ongoing. On these topics, there is no right to refuse to testify.

© HELMUT FOHRINGER / APA / picturedesk.com / Picture Alliance

Yannick Shetty, 29, is a member of the liberal Neos in the Austrian National Council. The lawyer represents his party in the investigative committee set up at the end of 2023, which is tasked with clarifying allegations of a “two-tier administration due to ÖVP government members favoring billionaires”, among other things with regard to state Corona aid. Signa founder René Benko is the last central “respondent” the committee will hear.

What specific topics are these?
We can ask questions about the alleged preferential treatment of billionaires, which Benko was at the time of the investigation, by the ÖVP-led federal government. Specifically, we are interested in the Corona funding for some of Benko’s companies as well as the tax procedures regarding his private jet, his holiday home Chalet N and his villa in Innsbruck-Igls. We are also interested in the businesses around the Tuchlauben complex in downtown Vienna, which was bought and sold by Benko and his companies. There were massive irregularities, including a relocation of the company headquarters during ongoing tax proceedings. As we now know, Benko saved several million euros in taxes by moving the company headquarters to Innsbruck. There is a suspicion that the decisions made by the tax office there were not done correctly. We will question Benko about this.

“We have one or two processes that are not yet publicly known”

Everyone is eagerly waiting to see whether Benko will finally comment on the reasons for the collapse of his company and the consequences of the bankruptcy. Can you help with something?
Unfortunately only very limited. What we can ask about are only Benko’s perceptions of certain events and facts that fall within the period under investigation. His perceptions of the last few months are not included.

Many questionable events in Signa-Rich have already become public after the bankruptcy. Do you still have a banger up your sleeve for the session?
We already have one or two cases that are not yet publicly known and that we would like to present to Benko. I can now only indicate what this is about – namely the tip-off from a whistleblower from Signa itself to the economic and corruption public prosecutor’s office. This leads to the suspicion that Benko is said to have created his own database for donations – i.e. possible bribes. However, this suspicion was not pursued further because the events had already expired. We want to ask Benko about this accusation.

This is very interesting, because until now it has always been said that there are basically no party donations at Signa. What time period is this about?
The allegations relate to a period of time that was more than ten years ago, specifically 2010 and 2011. They are therefore time-barred under criminal law.

It is known that Benko benefited from his excellent network in politics during his rise to become one of Austria’s leading entrepreneurs. Have you gained any new information about this from the committee’s files?
Absolutely. We were surprised at how intensive Benko’s political network was. It was a real spider’s web that Benko had created, especially with politicians from the ÖVP and SPÖ. He had very close contacts in these parties, and in recent years of course with Sebastian Kurz and the former SPÖ Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer. But it was also surprising how intensive the contacts were with the highest levels of the administration. They met up for drinks, they talked about individual tax procedures, and Benko personally received several private appointments in ministries. We only saw how close these contacts were through the files and chat analyses.

Sebastian Kurz campaigned for Benko during his term as Chancellor. After he left, he worked as a door cleaner for investors for millions in fees. Will you also drill into this?
I personally find it morally reprehensible that Sebastian Kurz silvered his phone book after becoming Chancellor and monetized his contacts around the world. Citizens should keep in mind what makes Kurz tick as long as he is thinking about returning to politics. That’s a far cry from the image he carefully cultivates. But I don’t see this as an offense per se that needs to be examined by the investigative committee.

Source: Stern

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