The business and corruption prosecutor’s office (WKStA) has now initiated investigations against three suspects in the affair surrounding the Vorarlberg Economic Association.
Among them is Governor Markus Wallner (ÖVP), as the “VN” reported on Tuesday morning. Wallner confirmed the initiation of the investigation to the APA. He saw this as a “possibility to put an end to the political boom of this lie”.
“Never negotiated an ad”
Wallner is being investigated for allegations of accepting benefits under Section 305 of the Criminal Code, and against two other people – the current Economics Minister Marco Tittler and his predecessor Karlheinz Rüdisser – for accepting benefits to influence under Section 306 of the Criminal Code. Specifically: Waller could have tried to demand advantages as an official for the dutiful performance of official business, Rüdisser and Tittler could have accepted such advantages. The WKStA did not name any names, and no information was given on further investigative measures with a view to the ongoing investigations.
“I have never negotiated or sold an advertisement, nor anything in return,” emphasized the governor in his statement. He wants to make that clear once and for all, he strongly rejects the anonymous allegations. “I assume that the anonymous allegations will be personalized in the course of the investigation. This is the only way to refute the allegations,” said Wallner. He assured the authorities full cooperation in the educational work and hoped that the WKStA would work quickly.
Wallner firmly rejects his resignation
After the meeting of the Vorarlberg state government, Wallner refused to resign. He will certainly not resign due to anonymous allegations. He emphasized that he never lost his enthusiasm for his job in the ten years he worked, and he still doesn’t. However, he has to experience things “that I never thought possible,” said Wallner.
A fuss about cellphones and tablets
The state governor also came under pressure on Tuesday due to the recent replacement of his electronic devices – in close proximity to the examination of the initial suspicion by the WKStA. When asked by APA, Daniel Zadra, Wallner’s government partner, stated that, as a member of the state government, he was also responsible for the state’s IT department. As the manager of this department, he was informed about the desire to delete data on devices from the governor’s office. After consultation with lawyers, he passed this information on to the authorities and thus assumed his responsibility, emphasized Zadra. It is up to Governor Wallner to explain why he wanted to have the data on his official devices deleted and to ensure full transparency here, too, said the Greens state councilor.
Wallner, for his part, emphasized through his spokesman Simon Kampl that he had received a new cell phone and a new tablet, but none of the cell phone data had been deleted. Replacing the electronic devices was “planned for a long time”, there is no connection with the surveys of the WKStA. The old mobile phone was not reset and is still with the governor, Kampl emphasized to the APA. Personally, Wallner affirmed: “All the data is there that is necessary for the conduct of official business.” The new tablet had already been delivered on April 13th, on April 19th the state IT department carried out the synchronization (calendar data, e-mail, contacts, etc.) and handed over the device to Wallner. The old tablet was properly reset.
Opposition: “Wallner has to go”
For the Vorarlberg opposition parties FPÖ, SPÖ and NEOS it was clear on Tuesday that “Governor Wallner has to go” (SPÖ party leader Gabriele Sprickler-Falschlunger), “and that still today” (NEOS leader Sabine Scheffknecht). It would be bold to describe the device replacement as routine. Wallner tried to take people in Vorarlberg for fools, they said independently of each other. The incident is one of a number of scandals that Wallner and the Vorarlberg People’s Party are currently churning out. FPÖ state party chairman Christof Bitschi disrespected Wallner’s behavior towards the citizens and called on the state governor to “finally take responsibility and resign”.
Question marks behind greens
Wallner has to face a motion of no confidence in the state parliament on Wednesday. The opposition – FPÖ, SPÖ and NEOS – introduced this two weeks ago. According to a report in the “Vorarlberger Nachrichten”, the voting behavior of the Greens – who have formed a coalition with the ÖVP since 2014 – is not yet clear. “This is a decision of the state parliament,” said Green leader Zadra to the APA.
“Our trust in the governor has been severely shaken, there is a question about the integrity of the office,” says Eva Hammerer, state spokeswoman and club chairwoman of the Greens in Vorarlberg. “We Greens are organized on a grassroots basis and no final decision has yet been made. Our committees meet tonight. In any case, it is clear that there is a lot at stake,” concludes Hammerer.
Is the coalition shaking?
However, regardless of this, there should not be a majority for the motion of no confidence. The non-party MP Thomas Hopfner (formerly SPÖ) has already declared that he will not support the motion of no confidence. The opposition would thus get no more than 18 (out of 36) votes. However, if the Greens actually withdraw their trust from Wallner, that would probably mean the end of the black-green government work. Wallner himself did not want to comment on this scenario on Tuesday. “I’ll look at it on Wednesday and make a decision if necessary,” he said.
Also a topic in the ÖVP-U committee
And the events in Vorarlberg were also a topic in the ÖVP corruption committee in Vienna on Tuesday: while the opposition does not want to believe that it was a “routine act”, ÖVP parliamentary group leader Andreas Hanger saw a “completely normal process”. This happens “very often” in state governments. He too, Hanger, is constantly deleting his data. He criticized the fact that the information from the WKStA’s preliminary survey on Wallner had found its way to the media. According to Hanger, the Greens are responsible for this. It can be proved that they were the only ones who had looked between the delivery of the files and their appearance in the media. David Stögmüller from the Greens did not want to comment on this “conjecture”.
For NEOS faction leader Stephanie Krisper, the events are anything but usual. “If the communication is professional, it cannot be erased, professional is professional.” SPÖ faction leader Jan Krainer took the same line. It should not be common in Austria for politicians to shred their data because they are afraid of getting into political difficulties if the data becomes public. That would not be possible at the federal level.
Backing from Nehammer
Wallner received backing from Chancellor and ÖVP federal party leader Karl Nehammer on Tuesday. “I said a few days ago that I have no reason at all to doubt his statements, and I will continue to do so,” he said in a press conference when asked about the latest twists and turns in the cause.