Creative Bookkeeping at the WKO

The Vienna Chamber of Commerce has been “hiding” payments to retirees as non-profit contributions, while the Chamber says the auditors knew about it all along.

Ever since Ibiza-gate revelations on Austria’s “swamp” of illegal campaign financing, the matter of dodgy bookkeeping has been on every tongue. Former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservative ÖVP has come under particular scrutiny, amid suspicions that corporate money is flowing through off-the-books channels into party coffers.

Evidence emerged last week when Florian Klenk, Editor in Chief of the Vienna weekly Falter, unearthed a concrete example of just how such transfers can work in practice. The case involves the Austrian Wirtschaftskammer (Chamber of Commerce) and the Austrian Senior Experts Pool (ASEP), a “moderately sponsored, non-profit club of experienced managers,” Klenk writes, “who provide their know-how to companies, advise apprentices and arrange panel discussions with top politicians.”

For this, the WKO gave ASEP €5000 per year. But three new co-presidents of ASEP last year discovered an additional €40,000 arriving on their accounts each month – and that a similar sum was then transferred to “a strange association named ‘Experten für die Wirtschaft’ (EFW, Experts for the Economy),” Klenk wrote.

Complicated transfers

A review of bank records showed an arrangement set to operate from 2010 to 2023 – thirteen years during which millions of euros, whose “exact origin is not known,” were to be transferred via the association. Noting that the funds were unrelated to the work of ASEP, the trio wrote to WKO vice president, Richard Schenz in June, 2018, and requested to end “this function of the association ASEP for the WKO”.  Gesagt, getan (so said, so done). The WKO ended the transfers.

It is now up to WKO Boss Harald Mahrer to explain himself, Falter wrote. “Are they perhaps covering uphidden party financing, as one WKO member speculated, or the remuneration associated with ÖVP politicians?”

Auditors in the know

Not at all, says the WKO. The set-up is “unusual, but totally clean.” The payments were part of a “social plan” for former WKO employees in early retirement, the Chamber told Falter, in exchange for their expertise. So why not pay them directly? Falter’s theory: “To prevent their payments from appearing as personnel costs, they were disguised as subsidies to associations and quietly distributed.”

In response to the article, he WKO issued a statement that the Court of Auditors had been fully informed. The plan was for employees who had been retired early in the 2002 budget cuts, and then hired back as independent “experts” by the EFW until their state pensions took effect. Not a case of illegal payments, then, but rather of creative accounting – just as Falter suspected.

Naomi Hunt
Naomi Hunt is a managing editor at Metropole, with roots in the U.S. and Malaysia that have long been buried under Austrian soil. She previously served as a program manager at the International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID) and was a Senior Press Freedom Adviser at the International Press Institute (IPI).

Help us help you

“Strong media and independent journalism are built on the shoulders of subscribers. Your support means the world to us.

Benjamin Wolf
COO & Managing Editor

The coronavirus outbreak affects and challenges your life in big and small ways. Metropole is here for you and we are proud to be your news source during this crisis.

But just as the coronavirus has increased the need for independent journalism, it has also undercut a major revenue source of media companies, ours included – advertising.

We need your support to keep it up – donate or subscribe and #helpushelpyou!

Support Metropole!


RECENT Articles

New Leadership for Austria’s Cultural Reopening

Having faced growing criticism from all sides, State Secretary for Cultural Affairs Ulrike Lunacek resigned May 15.

The Coronavirus in Austria & Vienna | Europe’s First Lung Transplant for a ...

The coronavirus has arrived in Austria. Here’s all you need to know about current measures, including available resources, trusted sources and tips – regularly updated.

7 Restaurants to Have Iftar This Ramadan

Today marks the beginning of Eid al-Fitr or Festival of Breaking the Fast, concluding a month of fasting for Muslims keeping the Ramadan. We’ve compiled a list of sweet spots in the city for you to celebrate the Sugar Feast.

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.

Reopening the Borders | What Our Neighbors Are Doing

Austria, Czechia, Slovakia and Hungary plan a coordinated opening in mid-June.

Top 5 Viennese Musicians in Quarantine

Many performers have taken to the internet where they teach, play and release fresh content, keeping our spirits alive during the crisis. Here are some of Metropole’s favorites!


Join over 5,000 Metropolitans, who already get monthly news updates and event invitations.