Austrians doubt widespread corruption claims

Many Austrian businesspeople are questioning investigations indicating that bribery is rampant in the country, a new survey shows.

Research group Ernst & Young interviewed more than 100 Austrian employees and company chiefs as part of its European Fraud Survey 2011. The agency said today (Weds) only 34 per cent of polled Austrians believe corruption is common in business deals. With 62 per cent, nearly twice as many people questioned across Europe said the same. Ernst & Young held more than 2,300 interviews in 25 countries of the continent.

The survey also shows that slightly more than one in 10 (12 per cent) of Austrian company staff and firm bosses think there is nothing wrong with accepting gifts or money in return for some sort of successful business deal. Europe-wide poll figures show that 19 per cent of people agree.

Only 17 per cent of employees at Austria-based businesses say they have received some sort of training to detect attempted bribery. Almost four in 10 (38 per cent) of all interviewed staff were taught how to identify and block corruption, the new European Fraud Survey reveals.

People working in Greece and Russia are most likely to offer cash bribes, according to Ernst & Young. The agency said such illicit activities were least common in France and Norway.

Ernst & Young’s revelations come around half a year after Transparency International (TI) revealed nine per cent of Austrians bribed authorities in 2009. This figure offers a significant contrast to the European Union (EU) average of just five per cent.

TI – a non-government organisation (NGO) – also said its Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) showed that 49 per cent of people living in Austria believe corruption is set to climb in the country.

The Austrian Green Party recently attacked the federal coalition for failing to make any progress after having pledged to introduce a new anti-corruption law. Social Democrats (SPÖ and the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) showed consent over getting a strict decree underway which ensures politicians do not engage in lobbying. SPÖ and ÖVP are reportedly at odds about various details such as if members of the federal parliament (MPs) should be forced to list all of their other incomes.

The anti-corruption initiative was presented by the coalition shortly after Ernst Strasser resigned as head of the ÖVP’s delegation in the European Parliament (EP).

An undercover investigation by the Sunday Times revealed how the ex-interior ministry responded to a request sent to numerous members of the EP (MEP). In the notification, the reporters disguised themselves as company executives keen on preventing the introduction of an EU-wide law.

The journalists secretly filmed Strasser when he declared himself as a lobbyist with many customers. The politician also made clear he would become active in their interest in return for money. After the story was published, Strasser said he wanted to expose illegal procedures before making any further statements.

European and Austrian anti-corruption investigators and prosecutors are currently looking into the case. Strasser’s former office in Brussels was searched by Viennese prosecutors and the European anti-fraud authority OLAF earlier this month.

Othmar Karas was recently named new head of the ÖVP’s EP delegation. The experienced MEP was controversially not nominated as the party’s EP election campaign front runner in 2009. Instead, Strasser launched a sensational comeback to politics after having worked in the private economy for five years. He headed the campaign and the ÖVP came first in the ballot – also thanks to 112,000 preference votes for Karas.

Right when the party hoped to be over the worst, it was under fire again by deciding that Hubert Pirker – a former lobbyist – will fill the gap left by Strasser in the EP.

Occurrences around Strasser were also linked to the surprising retirement of Josef Pröll. The politician resigned as ÖVP chief, vice chancellor and finance minister last month. Pröll claimed his fragile health was the sole reason behind his decision, but he fuelled speculations that the Strasser scandal also had to do with it by deploring a "lack of decency among some politicians."

A survey by public opinion research company Karmasin – carried out shortly after Pröll stepped down – showed that 39 per cent of Austrians were convinced all of the country’s main political parties were "equally corrupt."
Austrian Times