Corruption expert Martin Kreutner will chair the investigation commission, which was established after the audio recordings of the late justice department chief Christian Pilnacek were revealed. Justice Minister Alma Zadic (Greens) announced this at a press conference on Friday. The commission needs to review the files and also hold interviews. The studies are planned to be completed on May 31, 2024, and the final report is planned to be presented and published on June 15.
Pilnacek, once the most powerful man in the Justice Department, is heard on the secret recording saying that at an evening meeting with acquaintances at a bar in late July, he demanded that the ÖVP cease investigations and stop house searches. he had always dodged all of that. He mentioned, among others, by name the President of the National Council, Wolfgang Sobotka (ÖVP).
The commission needs to clarify, for example, whether it had any influence on the prosecutor’s actions from 1 January 2010 to the present. The starting point was roughly when Pilnacek took over as department head (autumn 2010). It is also being investigated whether political parties interfere with the functioning of justice.
In particular, the task is to “select prosecutors’ cases, including relevant files, from the bodies charged with supervision for the period from January 1, 2010 to December 1, 2023, where they can be undertaken or accepted subject to certain conditions.” “it is clear that a political party or a person or legal entity close to it has, has or may have an interest in a particular outcome or in the particular handling of prosecutorial proceedings”. A similar formulation has been chosen regarding the administration of justice.
Kreutner and Zadic made clear that the commission would not copy the work of the prosecutor’s office, which is also investigating. “We are not senior prosecutors or senior authorities,” Kreutner said. Files will be specifically requested, including those relating to U committees. Accordingly, surveys will be developed and interviews will be conducted. People will be invited to this, even though the commission does not actually have the opportunity to invite anyone. “We have no coercive power.”
There will also be the option to contact the Commission anonymously. For example, it should be determined whether there are “behavior abnormalities that are incompatible with today’s understanding of harmony”. Kreutner says it will not be possible to control all procedures since 2010. This is not the commission’s job; it is more about identifying structural and systemic deficiencies. Recommendations will then be made accordingly.
The remaining five to six commissioners will be appointed by December 15. According to Kreutner, practitioners from prosecutors and judicial administration will also be appointed, and at least one member must come from the international department.
Zadic emphasized that he would not interfere with the commission’s work. He has no right to give instructions to members. All necessary files and documents will be made available to the commission, and members of the judiciary will not be subject to official secrecy since they are appointed by the commission itself. Kreutner announced that there would be the possibility of anonymizing some statements in the final report, if necessary.
The purpose is to determine, for example, whether investigations have been obstructed; but it doesn’t happen that “when interventions occur, someone says you’re not allowed to investigate this, or you have to investigate this, and you have to investigate that.” this,” Kreutner emphasized. Therefore, we will also look at whether there is an excessive percentage of reporting obligations. “You can also paralyze a prosecutor by reporting three times a day.” Other international examples include the constant turnover of a secretariat or the failure to fill management positions.
Kreutner was previously head of the Internal Affairs Department at the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Tyrolean also served as dean of the International Anti-Corruption Academy in Laxenburg (Lower Austria) and advised the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, Transparency International and the World Bank. Most recently, he helped launch an anti-corruption referendum.
The commission of inquiry is called the “Paragraph 8” commission according to the Federal Ministerial Code. Members are independent of instructions; Previous similar commissions were devoted to children’s rights or the terrorist attack of November 2, 2020.
FPÖ Secretary General Christian Hafenecker expressed his criticism of Kreutner, who heads the commission, in his press statement. He was appointed to the ministry by former Minister of Internal Affairs Ernst Strasser (ÖVP). “A person who was in Strasser’s cabinet at the time of the establishment of the ÖVP ‘deep state’ and was later supported by the People’s Party is, in my opinion, unfit to investigate allegations of corruption in the ÖVP.” Although NEOS welcomes the Commission, it calls for further reforms. “First of all, we finally need an independent head of command in the judiciary: there should be an independent federal prosecutor instead of a minister at the end of the chain of command,” said NEOS club vice president Nikolaus Scherak.