If you take a close look at St. Stephen's Cathedral, you will notice that something is wrong: Probably the most famous church in Vienna has only rudiments of a second tower. For the Viennese, the devil was involved: the assistant of the cathedral architect had wanted to marry his master's daughter; however, he was only allowed to do so if he had completed the construction of the second tower within a year. In order to achieve this, he entered into a satanic pact, unintentionally violated its rules and therefore fell to his death, according to the old legend.

Of course, there is no evidence of this, rather the church and the empire had other problems than the construction of the tower, such as the danger from the Ottomans. City walls were suddenly more important than magnificent buildings. But even today, many Viennese children are told the story that a high-altitude intoxication often ends badly.

Benko loses first battle for the Signa

Confirmation of this can currently be found in René Benko and his Signa empire. The 46-year-old Tyrolean did not make a supernatural pact, but according to critics, he invested at all costs, until rising interest rates and flops in the trading division put an end to the almost supernatural success of the Signa Group. Now Benko has retired as chairman of the Signa advisory board, and a restructuring expert is to fix it.

Many questions now arise about Benko's excellent relations with Austrian politics. Signa's advisory board includes Alfred Gusenbauer, former Social Democratic chancellor, and Susanne Riess, a former vice-chancellor and FPÖ leader who is now not only politically close to the ÖVP – she married EU Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn last year.

Schnitzel and sushi with Strache

Benko is also well connected with ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP), with whom he was looking for investors together and is also said to have tossed over other business ideas. Benko dined with his former Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache (FPÖ) on his yacht Roma a few hours before Strache fell into the Ibiza trap (there was sushi for Strache and Benko, schnitzel for Strache's children). The photos of the illustrious guests at Benko's formerly annual Törggelen, the harvest festival, show his immense influence.

Again and again there were accusations, again and again investigations: The Economic and Corruption Public Prosecutor's Office (WKStA) accused Benko of having influenced the Viennese ex-Green politician Christoph Chorherr by donating to his association; but there was a legally binding acquittal for Benko.

The investigation continues into the question of whether Benko is said to have bribed the long-time top finance official Thomas Schmid. Schmid stated this in his confession; Benko is said to have lured him around tax problems with the prospect of a top job at Signa. The presumption of innocence applies.

Mudslinging looms

But if the Signa continues to crash and there is a mudslinging between Benko, investors and business partners, then a lot of dirty laundry is likely to be washed. For example, there have long been rumours of too close relations between Benko and the state-owned Federal Real Estate Company (BIG). And there are still some unanswered questions about the Benko episode at the furniture chain Kika/Leiner.

In any case, work on the Elbtower in Hamburg is currently at a standstill. With Hamburg's tallest building, which was to cost almost a billion euros, Benko wanted to erect a monument for himself that would shape the skyline of the port city for a long time to come. Now it stands there like the north tower of St. Stephen's Cathedral – unfinished. It remains to be seen which legends will be told about Benko one day.

Social Media Moment of the Week

How can you tell that the election campaign is starting slowly? Among other things, children's letters addressed to politicians. Celina, for example, would like to see FPÖ leader Herbert Kickl as "People's Chancellor"; but gave him – possibly subversively – a blue Smurf.

Stories we recommend to you today:

  • For those who have to fear the Signa turbulence: René Benko is disempowered. Now a German restructuring company is to save the billion-dollar Signa Group, which is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. How nervous must rich investors, banks and bondholders be now?

  • Törggelen with René Benko: The disempowered Signa boss, intoxicated by so much demonstrated success, was surrounded by prominent politicians.

Yours sincerely, Fabian Schmid,
Managing Editor of DER STANDARD

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