Thursday, 29. January 2015
21. 01. 10. - 16:00
By Thomas Hochwarter
People’s Party (ÖVP) Interior Minister Maria Fekter has warned that Austrian citizenship cannot be "bought" amid claims Carinthian Freedom Party (FPK) boss Uwe Scheuch promised easier citizenship proceedings in return for party donations.
The People’s Party minister said today (Thurs): "It is not possible to purchase Austrian citizenship."
Fekter explained "special links with Austria" had to be proven for someone to become an Austrian under a dual citizenship agreement.
"People who live here or are economically active here are evaluated differently than people who only make payments to an Austrian account but have no relation to Austria at all," she said in an interview with ORF’s Ö1 radio.
Asked whether she could imagine that "financial return services" as allegedly offered by FPK chief Scheuch were common practice, she said: "I strongly doubt that. Apart from that, I’m the last resort here."
Fekter admitted Austria was one of the countries which took part in "Citizenship by Investment" events in Japan and China, but said those interested were informed of the Austrian law and criteria that needed to be fulfilled.
The exact criteria for obtaining dual citizenship are not public, but Fekter claimed they were "very restrictive". Fekter added Russians investing in Austrian museums and galleries had great interest in Austrian citizenship. But she said all recent applications had been rejected.
Athletes and artists have occasionally become Austrian citizens after living and working in the country. Retired Croat-born football star Ivica Vastic – who played for the Austrian national team 50 times – and Russian opera diva Anna Netrebko are well-known examples of popular personalities being given Austrian citizenship.
Corruption prosecutors meanwhile said they were "of course" planning to look into the "Scheuch case", while magazine News and newspaper Kurier reported a Russian man allegedly negotiating an easy awarding of Austrian citizenship with the FPK chief had been interviewed by officials earlier this week.
Scheuch – who was last Saturday elected leader of the FPK which recently split from the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) to cooperate with right-wing rivals the Freedom party (FPÖ) – pledged to cooperate with prosecutors after the controversial audiotape emerged last week.
Magazine News claims the tape holds a recording of the former FPÖ MP offering a Russian businessman easier proceedings in becoming an Austrian citizen if he invests five million Euros in a project in Carinthia and donates five to ten per cent of the sum to his party, which at the time was the BZÖ.
The Greens in Carinthia said early elections must now be held and the Carinthian Social Democrats (SPÖ) joined them in calling on Scheuch to step down.
But Scheuch said he could not remember whether the conversation had taken place and said it was likely that the audiotape was part of a campaign against him and the newly set up FPK.
Scheuch said he would "obviously" speak with a lot of people about investing in the southern province of Carinthia, but added the tape might have been manipulated.
Magazine News reported today that the person allegedly heard speaking to Scheuch on the tape had confirmed the authenticity of the tape. The weekly claimed the man identified as Austrian Kurt L. was being treated as a principal witness by corruption prosecutors.
The man said the conversation took place last year and was not taken out of context, News reports.
"The conversation was recorded to ensure the circumstances would not change for the worse for my client considering the possible realisation of the planned project," the man is quoted as saying.
But the deal eventually fell through, the weekly claims.
"I’ve got a clear conscience," Scheuch said.
His former party BZÖ dismissed rumours they were behind a plan to harm the FPK leader’s reputation.
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