After Benko’s rejection: MPs want a penalty – economy

After Benko’s rejection: MPs want a penalty – economy


The rejection of ex-billionaire Rene Benko are planning at the last minute not to let the members of an investigative committee of the Austrian Parliament put up with it so easily. The Social Democratic SPÖ announced a motion for a flexing penalty on Thursday, a move that was received favorably by all other parties. The conservative ÖVP MP Andreas Hanger found that the timing of the rejection of the entrepreneur invited as a witness was a disregard for parliament.

The Federal Administrative Court must decide on an application. Then a new appointment with Benko would probably be possible in April or mid-May, said SPÖ MP Jan Krainer. The 46-year-old Signa founder had avoided an appearance that was very explosive. The parliamentarians would probably have confronted the former real estate tycoon, who is now referred to in the media as a rather derogatory “financial juggler”, not only with the actual topic of the committee: alleged tax advantages for the super-rich with close ties to the conservative ruling party ÖVP.

It would also have been about the decline of the Signa empire, about which many questions still remain unanswered. “The Signa “was and is one big, high-risk bet on low interest rates, aggressive expansion and massive appreciation,” said Green MP Nina Tomaselli before the start of the meeting. Low interest rates and good contacts in politics are not a corporate concept.

The questioning of another witness, the former head of department in the Ministry of Finance and current head of the Financial Market Authority (FMA) Eduard Müller, was not particularly spectacular. Müller emphasized several times that, in his view, there was no preferential treatment from the authorities for Benko. The Tyrolean was a taxpayer like any other.

Conflict between the obligation to tell the truth and the right to refuse to testify

According to his lawyer, the fact that Benko did not answer parliamentarians’ questions was due to a “unique” situation. As can be seen in the media, the authorities are investigating dozens of criminal and tax complaints, said lawyer Norbert Wess. However, his client has not yet been officially informed. This means that the entrepreneur cannot answer questions in parliament because he risks getting into a conflict between the obligation to tell the truth and the right to refuse to testify, according to the letter, which is available to the German Press Agency. In other words: The 46-year-old would be on extremely thin ice.

Former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) recently had painful experiences with statements before an investigative committee. He was sentenced – not legally binding – to a suspended sentence of eight months for making false statements to the parliamentary committee. Benko, who was considered a billionaire several times over and treated himself to the finest lifestyle with a private jet and a large yacht, has shied away from the public since his company’s series of bankruptcies.

Signa renovator Erhard Grossnigg recently told the magazine profilethat Benko “paid himself 30, 50 million euros in dividends for years.” How does a man feel who lost practically everything within a few months of his words? At least he said loudly Tyrolean daily newspaper When he went bankrupt, he promised to earn 3,700 euros a month as an employee of two of his companies. He could only make a living “through the support of his family (especially his mother),” the newspaper quoted from the insolvency administrator’s report.

René Benko’s deep fall does not seem to be over yet. “I would sleep very restlessly,” said the President of the Financial Procuratorate, Wolfgang Peschorn, with a view to the former real estate tycoon and the threat of legal proceedings. Benko was described by investors as a “de facto managing director” and was therefore probably the driving force behind the transactions, said Peschorn, whose authority represents the interests of the republic.

The largest economic bankruptcy in Austria’s history – the creditors’ claims add up to more than twelve billion euros – is likely to keep investigators busy for a long time. The investigative committee itself will soon have to stop its work again because of the National Council elections planned for the fall.


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