Austria: A senior policeman alleges abuse of office and cover-ups

Natascha Kampusch

Austria's government is to set up a commission to investigate allegations of police negligence in the case of Natascha Kampusch - the young woman who spent 8 years in a tiny cellar after being kidnapped at the age of 10. Her story made headlines around the world in 2006. The commission will also investigate allegations of abuse of office by officials in the interior ministry.

Natascha Kampusch
The essence of the allegations is that officials in the interior ministry in 2006, under a minister from the conservative People's party, used their positions for party political purposes. 2006 saw the biggest financial scandal in Austrian postwar history break around the BAWAG bank. The bank was owned by the unions. Now the former head of the Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Herwig Haidinger, has told parliament's interior affairs committee that he was put under pressure by ministry officials, because of the union connection, to direct investigations toward any involvement of the Social Democrat party in the scandal.

Information from the investigation was also leaked to the media. Mr Haidinger also says he was put under enormous pressure to reveal any useful information to the People's party. 2006 was election year. After the election in October, which the People's party narrowly lost to the Social Democrats, a parliamentary committee was set up to look into BAWAG and irregularities at other banks. Mr Haidinger says he was then pressured to deliver police files to the People's party parliamentary office before they went to the parliamentary investigation. Confronted with the allegations, the current head of the People's party, Wilhelm Molterer, said he wanted the matter cleared up..

“Clarification, clarification, clarification….and I expect everyone involved to work on this as speedily as possible”.

The other allegation put forward by the former head of the Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigation touches on the case of Natasha Kampusch, who was abducted in 1998 at the age of ten and escaped her captor Wolfgang Priklopil after eight years. Her flight from captivity made world headlines. According to Mr Haidinger, after she escaped he came across information in the case file showing a dog handler, six weeks after Kampusch disappeared, had given police detailed information on Wolfgang Proklopil, his character, style of life and according to media reports his penchant for children. The lead was not followed up. When Haidinger sought to interview the dog handler, he was instead ordered by top ministerial officials to drop the matter, because they didn't want a police scandal during the election campaign. Asked to comment on those allegations, People's party head Wilhelm Molterer said he couldn't imagine a minister from his party would act in such a way, but that this too “had to be clarified”.

“What I have to note is that these allegations are made against a very successful interior minister who died over a year ago. How should Liese Prokop defend herself”.

Mr Haidinger says he has tried to deal with his concerns about what he says was going on at the ministry before, and sent information last summer to the state prosecutor's office. Now he has gone to parliament.

"I have tried within the ministry to improve things and have often managed it…I think it's important in a democracy to discuss such things publicly”.

Mr Haidinger has also alleged he was removed from his post because he refused to be a party to corruption.