Mysterious Shell Companies Discovered Jörg Haider Had Millions Stashed in Liechtenstein, Magazine Reports
Investigators have found shell companies in Liechtenstein which apparently belonged to the late right-wing populist politician Jörg Haider. The accounts reportedly have 5 million euros in them, a fraction of the 45 million they originally contained. There are suggestions the cash could have come from Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
After the Austrian right-wing populist politician Jörg Haider died in a car crash in 2008, members of his Alliance for Austria's Future (BZÖ) party tried to fashion a glowing legacy for him. But an ongoing investigation into murky financial dealings is casting Haider in an unfavorable light.
The Austrian magazine Profil reported on Saturday that investigators looking into a case involving the Austrian bank Hypo Group Alpe Adria had found 12 shell companies belonging to Haider in Liechtenstein. A total of 5 million ($6.5 million) was deposited in the companies' accounts, the magazine reported.
According to investigators, the assets had originally amounted to 45 million. It is not clear where the rest of the money has gone, but some of the difference had allegedly been lost due to poor investments, the magazine reported. The magazine said that three of Haider's close associates had the right to access the money.
Investigators are currently looking into where the money came from and whether other politicians had access to it, according to the report.
Associates Deny Knowledge of Accounts
Haider's friends and family were quick to deny knowledge of the front companies. Claudia Haider, the politician's widow, told the Austrian news agency APA that she knew nothing about the accounts.
Uwe Scheuch, the head of the Freedom Party in Carinthia, which was founded by Haider, also claimed not to know about the accounts. "I can only rule out the possibility that the party is somehow involved in this," he told the Austrian public broadcaster ORF.
Haider's former press spokesman, Stefan Petzner, said that the allegations were an attempt by Austria's center-left and center-right parties to "damage" Haider's reputation. He insisted that the money in the Liechtenstein accounts was entirely above board.
A Libyan Connection?
Investigators from Austria, Germany and Liechtenstein are currently investigating possible cases of embezzlement, fraud and corruption relating to the sale of the now nationalized Carinthia-based bank Hypo Group Alpe Adria to the German state-owned bank BayernLB in 2007. They are also looking into a possible case of corruption involving the former Austrian Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser, who was a close associate of Haider's, and the sale of the Austrian public housing corporation Buwog in 2004. There is the suspicion that money may have been channeled to decision-makers via slush funds based in Liechtenstein, which is known for its banking secrecy. Investigators have apparently uncovered a total of 46 front companies in Vaduz and Schaan relating to the cases so far.
The magazine Profil and the daily newspaper Österreich also quoted former employees of Haider as saying that the money in Liechtenstein could have come from donations made by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. An anonymous associate of Haider's told the magazine that Gadhafi had "repeatedly" made campaign donations in cash. Haider cultivated economic relations with Libya and was a close friend of one of Gadhafi's sons.
Haider, who died in a car accident in Klagenfurt in October 2008 while intoxicated, was known for his extravagant lifestyle and expensive election campaigns. As well as his income as a politician, he also owned a 1,600-hectare (4,000-acre) forest in Carinthia.
dgs - with wire reports