Austrian authorities were yesterday investigating links between the late right-wing politician Jörg Haider and foreign dictators following claims that he had hidden a £40m fortune in secret accounts in Liechtenstein.
Officials confirmed that they are investigating the authenticity of a "black book" containing details about alleged money flows between Haider, Saddam Hussein and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Such deals might explain how a regional governor in Austria on a salary of around £125,000 a year had the huge sum in accounts in the tax haven of Liechtenstein.
Haider, who died when he crashed his limousine at speed while drink-driving in October 2008, reportedly had as many as 12 accounts, trusts and shell companies holding his wealth in the tiny country, which is sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria.
The right-wing former head of the Freedom Party made no secret of his dalliances with dictators; he visited Saddam Hussein on the eve of the Iraq war and was received in Tripoli by Colonel Gaddafi at a time when he was still shunned by the West over Lockerbie and his support for international terrorists. He also counted Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, as a close friend.
Now a confiscated booklet containing a diary allegedly handwritten by former Freedom Party politician Walter Meischberger is under police scrutiny in Vienna. Some of the details within are to be published today in Austria by the respected Vienna weekly newspaper Falter. The article states that the diary mentions a €45m transfer from Gaddafi, as well as more than €10m that unidentified individuals – including an unnamed Freedom Party minister – brought home from Iraq.
It also makes mention of a Haider confidant who supposedly brought a suitcase filled with €5m from Switzerland to the German city of Munich for "investment purposes". According to the diary, the money came from a Swiss account belonging to the dead sons of Saddam Hussein.
Meischberger cites Haider's former protocol chief Franz Koloini as his source, referring to him as "Franzi". Koloini was quoted by Austrian broadcaster ORF as saying he met with Meischberger but told him only about rumours, not facts, and that he did not know if there had been payments by Saddam or Gaddafi. Vienna's public prosecutor's office confirmed the existence of the diary but not its contents.
It was over the weekend that another Austrian publication, Profil Magazine, reported that investigators from Austria, Switzerland and Germany identified companies registered in Liechtenstein and linked to Mr Haider. His widow, Claudia Haider, denied any knowledge of the funds, saying: "Nothing like that was described in the estate."