AInvestors react nervously to the news of house searches at Austrian investor René Benko. The value of the Signa Development Finance bond has lost a single-digit percentage since Tuesday. This comes at a time when his empire’s department store group, Galeria Karstadt Kaufhof, which has twice received financial aid from German taxpayers, is once again in trouble.
In addition to trading houses and stationary trading platforms, the realm of the entrepreneur includes real estate in Europe and overseas as well as engagements in the media. The organizational structure of the large number of holdings gathered around the umbrella company is very intricate and complicated. Signa is one of the well-known players on the European real estate market with real estate assets of 24 billion euros.
Raid at two locations
House searches at Signa Holding by order of the Austrian Public Prosecutor for Economic Affairs and Corruption (WKStA) became known on Tuesday. The company itself did not comment on this when asked. The WKStA speaks of the suspicion of bribery in the search warrant, which the FAZ has received. In the years 2016 to 2018, Benko offered high-ranking employees in the Ministry of Finance a benefit for partisan support in the tax audit process of his group, namely a well-remunerated management position in this company, so that there would be no tax assessment or as little as possible.
The prosecution’s investigators were apparently looking for documents from experts who had valued one or more of the group’s properties in Vienna. Benko had already been questioned in the Ibiza investigative committee because he had been named as a supposed party donor by the former chairman of the FPÖ Heinz-Christian Strache in the well-known “Ibiza video” – about the freedom’s willingness to corrupt. Topics in his survey included the immense increase in value of the Postal Savings Bank – a historic Art Nouveau building – in Vienna a few years after it was acquired by the investor or the purchase of the furniture store Kika-Leiner, in which the high-ranking employee in the Ministry of Finance Thomas Schmid was involved and extra The court is said to have been opened up in order to be able to process the transaction over the Christmas holidays.
Trial for bribery begins soon
Investors are also having trouble on another front. In November, court proceedings begin that deal with corruption again: last autumn, the public prosecutor’s office for economic affairs and corruption brought an indictment against the former municipal councilor and planning spokesman for the Vienna Greens, Christoph Chorherr, and against nine other people. Among them are a number of prominent entrepreneurs from the real estate and financial sectors – like Benko. Chorherr is accused of corruption and abuse of office. The co-defendants are suspected of having bribed Chorherr and contributed to his possible abuse of office.
In summary, the suspicion is: The entrepreneurs are said to have corrupted Chorherr with donations to his South African school association S2Arch in order to win him over for construction projects in Vienna. Benko is charged here in connection with donations of 100,000 euros. Depending on the form of participation and the amount of the payments, the accused face up to ten years in prison if they are convicted. Everyone involved has always denied the allegations.
This development on the criminal front and the public attention it will bring over the next few months will do little to help the investor’s conglomerate. Ten years ago he was given a one-year suspended sentence for attempting to pay a bribe in connection with an Italian tax case. Media that report on it, he threatens his lawyers with lawsuits. As a result, Benko withdrew operationally from his Signa Holding.