Haider accused of dirty tricks

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The Independent Online

Sinister allegations have surfaced in Austria of a Watergate-style dirty tricks campaign conducted by Jörg Haider's right-wing populist Freedom Party against opponents with the help of rogue police officers.

Sinister allegations have surfaced in Austria of a Watergate-style dirty tricks campaign conducted by Jörg Haider's right-wing populist Freedom Party against opponents with the help of rogue police officers.

Revelations by a senior policeman named Josef Kleindienst have plunged Austria in a scandal the like of which has not been witnessed since Kurt Waldheim was exposed for lying about his wartime past. Mr Kleindienst accuses the Freedom Party of using illicitly obtained police files to discredit, ridicule, bully and destroy anybody who stood in its way.

A favourite method, he says, was to publicise the allegedly lavish lifestyles of leftist opponents, based on police reports on their financial status.

Earlier this week prosecutors in Vienna opened formal investigations against 18 senior Freedom Party officials, including Mr Haider and the country's Justice Minister, Dieter Böhmdorfer. They are suspected of subverting the police and using their informants in the force to dig up dirt on anyone who threatened their rise to power.

Mr Kleindienst, a disenchanted Haider acolyte, has written a devastating book about his spying activities. "We got a range of information from the police archives and passed it on to these Freedom Party employees," Mr Kleindienst told me. "Of course it was clear that we were breaking law but it was more important to help the party fight its enemies."

Mr Kleindienst's name means "small service". In his case, there was no charge for services rendered, but he says that over the past decade at least five other officers hacked into the police data banks for money, and would not log on for less than the equivalent of £3,000.

He is currently on extended leave from the police, helping with the official investigation.

Mr Haider vehemently denies the accusations. "The rumoured perpetrators in the spy affair are, in reality, the victims," he said this week. "Spying and the setting up of confidential files were things that happened under Socialist interior ministers."

Mr Kleindienst knows only about the files he supplied to the Freedom Party. Did his customers know they were acting illegally? "Of course they must have known that they were breaking the law," he replied.

But from how high up did the orders come? "The question as to whether someone from Haider's circle can order up information from police officers without Haider's knowledge is now being investigated by a special commission," Mr Kleindienst said.

Mr Haider says the evidence presented in his accuser's book is flaky. On the very first day the scandal broke, the Freedom Party leader even denied knowing him.

When I met the policeman, he showed me two photographs of himself and Mr Haider in the old days when he was still within the bosom of the Freedom Party. "If Haider says he doesn't know me then Haider is either suffering from memory loss or it's a lie," he said.

In fact, the two of them go back a long way, to the aftermath of the fall of the Iron Curtain. In 1989 a wave of petty crime hit Austria, increasing the workload for an already overburdened police force. Badly paid and dissatisfied with their conditions, they flocked to Mr Haider. He took their grievances seriously. A new police union was formed, affiliated to the Freedom Party. And the links between the party and some members of the force went much deeper, according to Mr Kleindienst, the union's first general secretary.

"As a policeman, I know in myself this attitude towards people - hating people, no problem with harming people - hatred for others. I know a lot of Freedom Party officials with the same attitude - a hatred of foreigners, opponents in the art scene and the media."

Such embittered policemen saw kindred souls in the Freedom Party and were delighted to help. "Someone from the Freedom Party rang up asking us to pass on any information we had on Andre Heller," Mr Kleindienst said. This was 1993 and Mr Heller was the leader of a mass protest movement against Mr Haider's rabble-rousing on the issue of immigration. Some 200,000 people took to the streets with candles as a symbol of their protest against Mr Haider's referendum to halt the influx of foreigners. Mr Kleindienst says the party wanted him to check out Mr Heller's car ownership and houses. The idea, he alleges, was to prove that Mr Heller was rich, thus undermining his credibility as a spokesman for poor immigrants. Mr Heller told me: "They found nothing other than I am successful in my career."

In December 1997 Mr Haider boasted to journalists: "I am in a position to organise information for myself at any time". An alleged recipient of the privileged information was Mr Böhmdorfer, for many years Mr Haider's lawyer.

In 1995 Mr Haider and Erwin Stadler, former parliamentary leader of the Freedom Party, were involved in a lawsuit against two leftist politicians. During the trial, they received information which strengthened their case. Mr Böhmdorfer, now the Austrian Justice Minister, says he obtained the information from his clients.

Frederick Baker's 'The Haider Show' will be broadcast at 6.50pm today on BBC2's 'Correspondent'