Chancellor could be charged with embezzlement

Social Democratic (SPÖ) Chancellor Werner Faymann is still facing abuse of office charges, it emerged yesterday (Thurs).

The Chief Prosecution of Vienna (OStA) announced it advised prosecutors to keep examining whether Faymann applied pressure on state-funded railroad company Federal Railways (ÖBB) over a series of ads in Austria’s most popular newspaper. There have been contradictory reports about whether prosecutors abandoned their investigations.

The chancellor positioned himself as an ombudsman for passengers in the 24 double-page spreads published in the Kronen Zeitung in 2008. He answered readers’ questions and promised to ensure an increase of service quality on trains. The campaign went to print in 2007 when the current head of the government was Austria’s minister for traffic and infrastructure.

Faymann got into the firing line regarding the 500,000-Euro insertion initiative last year when the Freedom Party (FPÖ) accused him of embezzlement and abuse of office. The opposition party claimed that Faymann and Josef Ostermayer forced ÖBB to finance the promotion campaign. Ostermayer was Faymann’s office manager and cabinet chief of the traffic ministry when the ads were published. He became state secretary for media affairs in 2008.

The OStA said most of the traffic ministry’s marketing and promotion investments were justified. It explained that state prosecutors would not continue investigations against Faymann and Ostermayer regarding other detailed aspects of the issue while the Kronen Zeitung insertions examination would be prolonged.

Apart from the market-leading daily newspaper, the infrastructure ministry apparently prioritised Viennese rivals Österreich and Heute in terms of spending on ads when Faymann was in charge. Little has changed since Doris Bures took over as traffic minister. SPÖ Education Minister Claudia Schmied is also accused of investing disproportional amounts on information and promotion campaigns in the tabloid trio.

Ostermayer said in a first reaction he was convinced that prosecutors would find nothing wrong with his marketing decision-making of the past. Faymann, who became chairman of the Social Democrats and Austrian chancellor four years ago, did not comment on the news about the continuation of the abuse of office and embezzlement examinations.

The insertions controversy is just one of many aspects which caused a worsening of politics’ reputation. Many former and incumbent decision-makers of the SPÖ’s coalition partner, the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) are accused of corruption, fraud and money laundering as well. However, key figures of the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) are also under fire.

Former ÖVP Vice Chancellor Erhard Busek – one of the several co-organisers of democracy movement Mein Österreich (My Austria) – said he kept asking himself “what did I do wrong”. Busek said it would have been possible to avoid the recently emerged corruption and fraud scandals around Telekom Austria (TA) and other companies. He said: “It came this far because of the inappropriate quality of politics and politicians.”