ÖBB hit by €180,000 brand name purchase revelation

A controversial lobbyist raked in hundreds of thousands of Euros by getting Federal Railways (ÖBB) to buy the trademark rights for a registered name from him, an opposition politician has claimed.

Peter Pilz, a member of the federal parliament (MP) of the Green Party, announced yesterday (Tues) he obtained a firm-internal audit report exposing the disputed deal. Pilz said Viennese lobbyist Peter Hochegger hosted an event held by ÖBB to find a name for its new range of high-speed train in 2004. An employee of the debt-stricken company reportedly suggested Railjet – a name Hochegger registered as a trademark a short while later. ÖBB eventually transferred 180,000 Euros to the lobbyist in 2007 to use the name, Pilz explained.

The Green Party official said he reported ex-ÖBB manager Stefan Wehinger for embezzlement over the decision to buy the trademark rights. Wehinger left the state-funded railway firm in the meantime to head its private rival, Westbahn. Pilz claimed the Railjet brand name controversy was “just another example of corruption” in the era of the coalition of ex-Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel’s People’s Party (ÖVP) and the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ).

The ÖVP and the FPÖ agreed to cooperate on federal level in 2000. The coalition lasted until 2005 when the FPÖ’s cabinet of ministers walked out to join the new Alliance of the Future of Austria (BZÖ). The government coalition lasted for two more years. Several former ÖVP and FPÖ decision-makers including ex-ÖVP Interior Minister Ernst Strasser, former FPÖ Finance Minister Karlheinz Grasser and ex-FPÖ Infrastructure Minister Hubert Gorbach are currently facing abuse of office investigations.

Hochegger was allegedly involved in some of the most controversial privatisations and other business deals of the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition’s era. The lobbyist and ex-FPÖ MP Walter Meischberger received nearly 10 million Euros when real estate company BUWOG was privatised in 2004.

Magazine profil claimed earlier this year Hochegger received at least 25 million Euros from the press department of party state-owned Telekom Austria’s (TA) over the years. The weekly magazine wrote recent company-internal checks were unable to link all of the money to assignments Hochegger’s company actually carried out for TA.

ÖBB debts of 20 billion Euros are expected to soar in the coming years. The firm headed by Christian Kern had 210 million passengers last year. ÖBB’s Railjet trains are in operation on its most prestigious long-distance services such as the connection between Vienna and Salzburg. Westbahn – which was founded by Strabag SE boss Hans Peter Haselsteiner – will operate 13 times a day between the cities from December. Kern recently said he was convinced that the new competitor’s pledge to offer first class comfort at second class prices “will remain a legend.” The ÖBB boss argued: “Westbahn’s seat spacing will be less in its first class compartments than ours.”