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Signa founder René Benko: “Intervened in management decisions”


Antonio Bronic / REUTERS

As a result of the bankruptcy cascade in the Signa Group, company founder René Benko is targeted by Austrian politicians. Several members of the National Council are urging the Alpine Republic's Ministry of Justice and Finance to investigate possible crimes. If "the suspicion that René Benko was the de facto managing director of the Signa companies" was confirmed, then the politician Nina Tomaselli (The Greens), who has been critically observing Benko and Signa for a long time, wrote in an inquiry to the finance minister on January 26th The state could possibly collect debts from him and he would be liable "if bankruptcy is delayed." Benko could also be prosecuted criminally in the case.

Tomaselli criticizes in the four-page letter that it has so far been left in the dark as to how high the Signa Group's actual outstanding debts are with the Republic. Austrian taxpayers must be held as harmless as possible from the Benko scandal.

Benko resigned from operational positions at Signa years ago, but according to insiders he continued to manage the conglomerate. MPs around the liberal Neos politician Stephanie Krisper, who is also the parliamentary group leader in the ÖVP corruption investigation committee, argue similarly in a request to the Ministry of Justice. They ask whether an investigation is being carried out into delaying insolvency and criticize the fact that auditors waved through the Signa Group's high real estate values.

Several days ago, important Signa investors publicly stated that Benko held the reins at Signa. Shareholder Hans Peter Haselsteiner, former head of the construction group Strabag, said that Benko "intervened in the management decisions" or was informed about them. He is supposed to be in charge of the actual management and “he will have a hard time defending himself against that, and he should stand by that.”

Meanwhile, the Finanzprokuratur, the Republic of Austria's law firm subordinate to the Ministry of Finance, is trying to get to grips with Benko's financial situation: According to the daily newspaper "Standard", it has filed for insolvency against him, which creditors are also allowed to do. The application could reveal whether Benko is personally strapped for cash. At Signa Holding, third parties paid part of his promised three million euros for him. The state also wants Benko to pay off tax debts.

Benko did not respond to a request for comment from SPIEGEL.