The Haider Diaries A Right-Wing Populist, Two Dictators and Millions of Euros
Many consider him to be a revanchist. A far-right agitator. A disagreeable populist. But in his home state of Carinthia, the Austrian politician Jörg Haider, who died in a car accident in 2008, is still revered. The highest bridge in the state is named after him and a monument where he lost his life has become a pilgrimage site. His followers have even created a Haider museum. On display: his desk, his sneakers, his rocking horse.
But the perfect idyll created by Haider's followers is no longer quite so perfect these days. And his many critics are even beginning to wonder if the right-wing politician may in fact have been a criminal.
Carinthia's favorite son has been back in the headlines in Austria this week after the newsmagazine Profil reported last Saturday that Haider may have possessed a substantial, and secret, fortune. Some €45 million ($59 million) allegedly belonging to shell companies owned by Haider was reportedly parked for a time in secret bank accounts in Liechtenstein. The accounts are said to have been discovered during ongoing investigations into the 2004 privatization of the Austrian residential construction firm Buwog and the controversial takeover of the Carinthia-based bank Hypo Group Alpe Adria by the state-owned Bavarian bank BayernLB in 2007.
State prosecutors have denied knowledge of the accounts and it remains unclear to what degree the suspicions reported by Profil might be based in fact. But speculation as to where the money might have come from has been rampant. Profil names Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi as a possible source. Other names are likewise circulating, such as that of former Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein.
Far from Sober
Not surprisingly, the debate has been far from sober thus far. Haider devotees claim the accusations amount to a pack of lies with little substance. The media coverage is not unlike the aggressive anti-Semitism of the Nazi mouthpiece Der Stürmer, says Gerald Grosz, a regional leader of the Alliance for Austria's Future, the right-leaning party founded by Haider.
The only clue to a possible link between Haider and the two dictators is a mysterious diary kept by the former Haider confidant and lobbyist Walter Meischberger. The journal was confiscated from his villa in Vienna by investigators looking into the Buwog case. Meischberger had turned himself in -- he is suspected of having misappropriated some €10 million as part of the Buwog privatization.
The diary, parts of which SPIEGEL ONLINE has seen -- and which was partially published in the Viennese magazine Falter this week -- includes entries from Haider's private trips to Iraq. Those entries discuss accounts belonging to Saddam Hussein and his sons, accounts which were to be administered by Haider loyalists.
As bizarre as the stories may seem, they cannot be discarded out of hand. Haider's close ties with Iraq were well known. He was one of very few Western politicians to travel to Iraq when it was still under Saddam's control, a trip he made three times. In 2003, he wrote a book about his meetings with the Iraqi dictator.
A Donation from Libya
Meischberger also describes a €45 million donation to Haider's party from Libya -- exactly the amount that appeared in the Profil report. Haider had a particularly close relationship with Gadhafi's son Said, who once sat next to the Austrian politician in a box at the Vienna Opera Ball. Said also attended Haider's funeral.
The diary is just one detail among many that has fueled the Haider debate this week. But it remains unclear whether it will ultimately be the key to the affair. Some parts read as though written for publication -- either to distract from Meischberger's own infractions or to gain a leg up on former Haider loyalists.
Meischberger's own comments regarding the journal have been nebulous. "I would advise you not to take the story terribly seriously," he told the Austrian daily Kurier. He said the document isn't a diary at all. Rather, they are notes made to assist him during his own police interrogation.
Friedrich Koenig, spokesman for the Austrian agency charged with combating corruption, is likewise unwilling to ascribe the diary too much importance. He says Meischberger's writings only contain "hearsay from other recipients of hearsay." The prosecutors responsible for looking into the case, promised Koenig, will be deliberate and exact in their investigations.
Moving Too Slowly
But the judiciary has likewise been the target of attacks this week. Rolf Holub, a senior Green Party member in Carinthia, joined several others in pointing out that there have been suspicions of secret Haider accounts since 2007. He said that prosecutors had been informed, but did little to investigate. Franz Fiedler, formerly head of Austria's audit office and now head of the anti-corruption organization Transparency International, has likewise accused the Austrian judiciary of moving too slowly.
In Carinthia itself, the scapegoat for the debate has already been found: the press. Kurt Scheuch, head of the Carinthia chapter of the Austrian Freedom Party -- a right-wing party likewise founded by Haider before he split off to start the Alliance for Austria's Future -- has said that the media is abusing the memory of Jörg Haider to sell papers and improve viewership. He says it all reminds him of the falsified Hitler diaries in the 1980s.
His shrill comment seems unlikely to be the last.