Austrian real estate empire Signa Holding files for bankruptcy

In Austria, a real estate empire is collapsing. Signa Holding, owned by billionaire René Benko, filed for bankruptcy.

Signa Holding's offices in Vienna, November 15, 2023. AFP - JOE KLAMAR

By: RFI Follow


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You've probably never heard of René Benko or the Signa Group, but you're probably familiar with many of the buildings that made up his empire: the Chrysler Building in New York, the luxury department store Selfridges in London, and luxury hotels in Berlin, Vienna or Zurich.

Last year, the group was still worth nearly $30 billion. An empire that René Benko built on his own, he who is not an heir, began by converting unused attics into luxury apartments. Signa's development model was based on two pillars. First of all, his ability to cultivate friendships at the top: politicians were often seen at the social events he organized. René Benko had friends in all parties, and in many countries.

Complex financial arrangements

The second pillar is a myriad of subsidiaries and complex financial arrangements that are too complex. And above all, they were constantly in need of new money. The sharp rise in interest rates has exposed the flaws in this system.

René Benko and many of his friends also found themselves in the crosshairs of the justice system, accused of corruption. Both pillars of the Signa Empire crack, and the house of cards collapses.

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