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Friday, May 24, 2024

Austrian Ruling Party Accuses Far Right of Enabling Russian Spying

Austria’s ruling Greens party accused the far-right Freedom Party of enabling Russian espionage on Friday as a scandal involving a fugitive former executive of failed German payments firm Wirecard gathered momentum.
Allegations and evidence have been mounting that Austrian former Wirecard executive Jan Marsalek orchestrated Russian spying activities in his home country and ran double agents in its domestic intelligence service.

Last week’s arrest of former domestic intelligence agent Egisto Ott has thrown up new revelations, prompting both ruling parties to accuse Freedom Party leader Herbert Kickl, the interior minister from 2017 to 2019, of being at fault over failings in the security apparatus.
“We have the potential infiltration of our secret services by Russian agents. This is very, very serious and the Freedom Party and … Kickl are directly linked to it,” Greens parliamentary leader Sigrid Maurer told reporters.

Her party has accused the Freedom Party (FPO) of acting as “an extension of Russia’s arm” in Austria.
The FPO has taken a pro-Russia stance, opposing EU sanctions imposed on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine. Under a previous leader, it also struck a cooperation agreement with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.
Kickl denies being pro-Russian and says his party is defending Austrian neutrality. The FPO has denied all allegations involving Marsalek.

The FPO is leading in opinion polls, capitalising on concerns about immigration and issues like inflation. A parliamentary election is due this year.

Prosecutors have said only that Ott was arrested on suspicion of misuse of office and spying activity detrimental to Austria, without elaborating. Ott denies any wrongdoing.

Media reports say Ott is suspected of having passed phone data from senior Interior Ministry officials to Russia.

Calling Ott “the tip of the Russian iceberg”, the Greens said his arrest followed years of probes into a cell of pro-Russian operators that Marsalek was able to “effortlessly build and maintain within the Austrian services”.
A lawyer for Marsalek was not immediately available for comment.
Weekly newspaper Falter published excerpts from a document ordering Ott’s arrest showing he is suspected of obtaining under false pretences the Vienna address of Bulgarian journalist Christo Grozev, known for investigations into Russian intelligence activities like the 2022 poisoning of opposition politician Alexei Navalny, who died in prison this year.

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Grozev told Falter last year he had moved to the United States for security reasons after living in Austria for years.
“The Egisto Ott case is a threat to democracy and our country’s national security,” conservative Chancellor Karl Nehammer said on social media, calling for a swift investigation to uncover all those involved.

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