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Anti-corruption panel questions Meischberger

Walter Meischberger has tried to explain why he received hundreds of thousands of Euros from a lobbyist.

The former general secretary of the Freedom Party (FPÖ) was interviewed by the parliamentary anti-corruption commission. The panel headed by Gabriela Moser of the Greens wants to find out whether illicit transactions between ex-Telekom Austria (TA) chiefs, businesspeople, lobbyists and politicians had influenced decision-making in parliament in the past years.

Meischberger told the committee yesterday (Thurs) he created concepts and strategies for Peter Hochegger’s agency. The lobbyists paid 700,000 Euros to Meischberger for his activities between 2003 and 2008. Hochegger received tens of millions of Euros by TA, the Austrian telecommunications market leader. TA’s current board started an extensive examination of the business partnership with Hochegger a few months ago. The investigators suggest that some of the payments might not be justified.

Meischberger – who admitted that there was no contract regarding the provisions he received from the lobbyist – told the anti-corruption commissioners yesterday that Hochegger probably hoped that TA would be advantaged in competition with other mobile services firms thanks to his close ties with Karl-Heinz Grasser. Meischberger is the ex-Freedom Party (FPÖ) finance minister’s best man.

The ex-FPÖ general secretary, who set up a promotion and consulting agency after leaving politics in 1999, vehemently denied that TA benefited in such a way. He claimed that one of his key principles was to strictly separate business matters and private concerns. Grasser was not asked by the committee to turn up for interrogations. The ex-FPÖ member, who served as federal finance minister between 2000 and 2007, faces abuse of office and tax evasion charges.

Meischberger was interviewed by the commission – which also features Social Democrat (SPÖ) Hannes Jarolim and Stefan Petzner of the Alliance of the Future of Austria (BZÖ) among others – a few days after TA CEO Hannes Ametsreiter, Industry-Holding Stock Corporation (ÖIAG) head Markus Beyrer and lobbyist Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly were asked into the witness stand. Former BZÖ Vice Chancellor Hubert Gorbach and ex-ÖVP Interior Minister Ernst Strasser were interviewed by the panel as well.

Petzner and other members of the committee suggested earlier this week to cancel the scheduled summer break due to the extensive list of tasks they must handle in the coming months and weeks. Petzner warned that the commission might not manage to compile a final report about the various alleged corruption and bribery scandals before next year’s election. Suspicious payments by ex-TA managers are just one of a whole list of issues the committee was asked to look into.

ÖVP parliament member (MP) Dorothea Schittenhelm suggested a few days ago to abandon the commission’s activity. Schittenhelm, who heads the ÖVP’s women’s organisation, said state prosecutors should continue examining the various issues. She said politicians must not get involved in any way. The Greens, the BZÖ and the Freedom Party (FPÖ) criticised Schittenhelm. They said this was an attempt to cover up illegal financing of the ÖVP by companies through a complex network of organisations close to the party and lobbying firms.

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