After Ibiza | Older, But None the Wiser

A year ago the infamous video was released: it showed the then Vice-Chancellor H-C Strache promising lucrative state contracts for other favors. What was at first a political embarrassment has now sparked a broader corruption investigation.

A clutch of vultures circling high in the sky: Somewhere down on the ground there are rich pickings of stinking carrion. Now is the first anniversary of “Ibizagate”, probably the 2nd Austrian Republic’s meatiest scandal yet, and a hearty feast for predators, the media and the public prosecutors. 

“Der Ibiza Porno” headlined the weekly Profil , “How seven minutes changed the nation.” There is indeed something pornographic about this video clip: The naked venality of the second most powerful man in the government of the day makes for gruesomely compelling viewing.  Not yet in office, he was caught on camera offering the supposed niece of a Russian billionaire juicy construction projects in exchange for media support to propel his party into leadership. Our much respected President and conscience of the nation, Alexander Van der Bellen, spoke ex cathedra the following day:  “So sind wir nicht” (That’s not who we are) he declared with statesmanly pathos. 

Well, maybe, suggested Der Standard columnist RAU (Hans Rauscher): “It’s true, we’re not all like that, but some of us are.” The official investigation due to start June 4th may illuminate whether this was just a rogue politician’s stupid slip or a disturbing revelation of latent Balkan corruption in “The Isle of the Blessed” – Austria’s sometime pet name for itself.

A year later the formal hearings to scrutinize the case are beginning.  Perhaps most intriguing is the question of how it all began: Who set up the video trap? What were their motives?  Were they political or simply blackmail for money? Did they get what they wanted?  This will not be easy to unravel. The clip was released by two respected German publications, the weekly Der Spiegel and the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, who have quite properly refused to reveal sources or release the complete four and a half hour video. Whether the full recording would give us more clues is unclear. Just one Austrian, Falter editor in chief Florian Klenk, has seen the unedited tape, and he is not telling either.

Fog on the ground

The relentless media spotlight is now starting to uncover dark corners, and starting June 4, a full judicial investigation.  Well-informed rumors have been circulating for months.  First Julian H, a Viennese detective and video entrapment specialist, also known to the drug squad. And the mysterious M, an “Innenstadtanwalt” (1st district lawyer), presumably expensive and possibly influential. According to Die Presse 18.5, they have now declared themselves (the online source given http://ibiza.hintergrund.net/ is hard to reach). This appears to be pre-emptive self-defense. 

It was always presumed that the initial motive was money, in a word blackmail.  The more likely truth is that they were unable to find a buyer. Certainly Der Spiegel and Die Süddeutsche paid nothing. Some suggest that Strache’s arch political rivals, the social democrats of the SPÖ, were offered the tape and also refused. Why the incriminating evidence was not offered to Strache’s FPÖ itself – the obvious first choice in a blackmail scam – is frustratingly unclear.

State of play at present: video-maker JH is safely in Berlin, the accusations against him do not warrant extradition. His co-conspirator M is accused of falsifying official documents but is likely to be cleared under freedom of expression.  Recent reports suggest they are claiming moral high ground as whistleblowers. Heavy fog on the lowlands; visibility close to zero.

The smell of corruption

Until now, Ibizagate had principally damaged the main players and the FPÖ.  From here, the ramifications are wider-reaching. Strache’s boastful promises were scandalous, but not legally relevant (at the time he held no government office).  However his indications of illegal party financing are totally relevant for the public prosecutor’s office and threaten the broader body politic.

“Chancellor, ministers, Strache and billionaires face the committee,” reported the Boulevard daily OE24 May 13 gleefully. Our squeaky clean Kanzler Sebastian Kurz and his ex finance minister Hartwig Löger are invited, as are Falter editor in chief Florian Klenk, and a couple of big-beast managers from corporations with partial state ownership and mega-rich private persons, all somehow implicated in or by the infamous video. Presumption of innocence, of course!

In total there are 35 items in the preliminary proceedings, so it is likely something will stick. With a nice touch of irony the front-page box in Der Standard noted: “We don’t have a Trump in Austria, but instead our Strache – admittedly a feeble substitute … big country, big comedy, small country, small comedy.”

Now on the eve of the judicial enquiry the more important question is whether there will be lasting consequences.  Again Der Standard, Sebastian Fellner: “Austria has learnt nothing from Ibiza.”  Perhaps.  But the sweet smell of corruption will be food for the vultures for some time to come.

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Simon Ballam
English, studied in NY and worked in London, Düsseldorf, NY, Fankfurt, Prague and Vienna. This covered stints in market research and the film industry, international advertising coordination and strategic planning. Currently business school lecturer and journalist.

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