Vienna mayor `was Czech spy'

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The Independent Online
AUSTRIA HAS been shaken by allegations that the former mayor of Vienna - a symbol of democracy and anti-racism in his country - worked as a spy for the Czech Communists and was paid 66,000 Austrian Schillings (pounds 10,000) for his services.

Helmut Zilk, a social democrat, lost one of his hands after a letter- bomb attack in 1993, which is thought to have been committed by right- wing racists intending to punish him for his liberal policies.

The allegation that he worked for the Czech secret service from 1953 to 1969 was made after he was proposed for one of the highest honours the Czech Republic can bestow, the Order of the White Lion.

After being informed about Mr Zilk's alleged spying activities, the Czech President, Vaclav Havel, a former dissident who suffered at the hands of the communist regime, has withdrawn his name from the list of those to be honoured.

The evidence is thought to come from the archives of the former Czech secret service. Vaclav Benda, an expert on the secret service, told the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung: "Authenticated information reveals that Dr Zilk was at first a confidential collaborator and then an agent of the ... Czecho-Slovak Secret Service (StB), and received renumerations for his services during the second half of the Sixties."

Vienna was a centre for espionage and counter-espionage during the Cold War. The Vienna operations of the Czechoslovak spying network were led by the country's press attache at its Vienna embassy, Major Ladislav Bittman, second-in-command of the Czechoslovak "Desinformation Department 8", which specialised in manufacturing forged documents to confuse and discredit opponents. Should the allegations prove correct, he would have been Mr Zilk's contact.

Mr Zilk has denied all allegations and described them as "pure idiocy". He says revenge is the most likely motive of the allegations and has asked President Havel to release all documents pertaining to this case.