Austria’s secret services: Secret services in need of explanation


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Status: 06/24/2022 09:23 a.m

For a long time, scandals shook the Austrian secret service BVT. At the end of 2021, a new authority took its place. There could also be trouble about them now, because of the volatile ex-Wirecard board member Marsalek.

By Arne Meyer-Fünffinger and Josef Streule, BR

Allegations of corruption, nepotism, leaks – for years the Austrian secret service BVT made negative headlines. The contacts of former employees of the BVT to the ex-board member of Wirecard, Jan Marsalek, play an important role. Information about this is said to have leaked. The public prosecutor’s office is therefore investigating in Vienna.

The BVT had also been sidelined internationally. In December 2021, Austrian politics therefore drew consequences: A new authority, the Directorate for State Security and Intelligence (DSN), took the place of the BVT. But how trustworthy is this?

Million order for Marsalek business partner

According to information from BR research the Austrian government has reorganized the information technology for the DSN, a highly sensitive and security-relevant area. Two contracts were awarded for this in August 2021: Vienna-based msg Plaut Austria GmbH was to provide “project controlling for ITC high-security networks” services. Volume of the order: almost 190,000 euros. RISE GmbH from Schwechat near Vienna was awarded the contract for the construction and operation of high-security networks with an order value of around 1.4 million euros.

Spicy: The management staff of both companies maintained close business relationships with Wirecard for years, mostly directly through the Marsalek, who went into hiding. Why were the two companies commissioned anyway? Especially since it had long been known in August 2021: Marsalek had close contacts with Russian security circles and probably left for Moscow.

Russia dossiers for Wirecard

Wolfgang G., a close friend of Marsalek, plays a central role in one of the companies. G. was deputy head of cabinet in the Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior until 2007. He later founded the management consultancy Repuco. From March 2016, the company regularly provided Marsalek with a “strategic market analysis of Russia” for years – initially for 7,000 euros per month. Wirecard paid the corresponding bills. In Russia, they have “particularly long-term relationships with many decision-makers,” G. wrote in an email to Marsalek in September 2015. G. was also present at several meetings in Munich when the then Wirecard board member Marsalek discussed refugee projects in Libya with interlocutors.

In July 2021, immediately before the ministry contract was awarded, Wolfgang G’s company Repuco became part of msg Plaut Austria GmbH. G. stayed on board as a “member of the management team,” according to a press release. The fact that G. had been in contact with Marsalek for years became public in June 2021 at the latest by the Wirecard investigative committee in the German Bundestag.

Nevertheless, the Austrian Ministry of the Interior commissioned the company msg Plaut Austria shortly afterwards. For David Stögmüller, member of the Greens in the Austrian National Council, “a huge problem”: “Marsalek is in contact with Russia, with the secret services in Russia and here someone has to be hired for the development of this sensitive infrastructure in an Austrian secret service, who is paid by Marsalek confessed, that’s just unbelievable and definitely needs to be clarified.”

The responsible Austrian Ministry of the Interior does not want to comment on the process with reference to “an ongoing investigation” in the Wirecard case. Wolfgang G. gives up BR-Inquiry via a lawyer that he has not been managing director of Repuco since the end of March 2022, which is why he cannot make any statements for the company for this reason alone.

The company msg Plaut Austria emphasizes that “in none of our projects and none of our customers do we have access to information that (…) could have an impact on Austria’s national security”.

Connections to the Russian armaments industry

RISE GmbH, which has also been working for Austria’s new secret service DSN since August 2021, also cooperated closely with Wirecard. Thomas G., the managing director of RISE, often exchanged ideas directly with Marsalek. This is proven by almost 300 e-mails that BR research present. One project in particular stands out: From mid-2016, RISE wanted to win the contract for a ticket and billing system for local public transport in Saint Petersburg together with Wirecard. The partner company on the Russian side, with which a lively e-mail exchange developed, is called Skytech.

Skytech is “de facto a sister company of Rostec,” Marsalek wrote to Wirecard’s chief accountant in November 2015. Rostec, Russia’s largest arms company, has been subject to sanctions since the Crimea annexation in 2014. Wirecard’s chief accountant at the time was puzzled by the fact that Skytech’s headquarters in the small Russian town of Dimitrovgrad is a disco: “It’s not even particularly good. Do we have collateral here?” He asked Marsalek.

Skytech was added in early 2015 BR-Investigations founded by straw people – probably with the aim of circumventing US sanctions against Rostec. Numerous documents support this conclusion. Accordingly, in April 2015, Wirecard had a contract ready to be signed for the sale of software to a Russian company called NIRS. The software was intended to help Russia set up its own payment systems for the aviation industry, at Marsalek’s instigation. A Rostec subsidiary was involved in NIRS. Marsalek therefore had the “sanctions situation” checked again. The result: Wirecard sold the software for around four million euros at the end of 2015 not to NIRS and thus to Rostec, but to Skytech.

Was the Austrian IT company RISE aware of these connections when it cooperated with Skytech? on BRinquiry RISE said: “The backgrounds you mentioned were not previously known to us.” Overall, RISE achieved sales of 1.3 million euros with projects for Wirecard from 2014 to 2017. The software company did not inform the Ministry of the Interior in Vienna in advance of the orders for the new secret service, according to RISE when asked: “There was no information that needed to be reported.”

No comment from the Federal Ministry of the Interior in Vienna

It is unclear whether the Austrian Ministry of the Interior knew about the projects: the ministry does not answer specific questions about the connections between RISE and Wirecard. David Stögmüller from the Austrian Greens is now calling for clarification: “If these companies have been hired, they must be subject to a background check. I’m very surprised that the secret service probably didn’t do it or clarify it, or, that’s the alternative, consciously received.”

Konstantin von Notz, member of the Bundestag and chairman of the parliamentary control body responsible for the German intelligence services, is also confused. He reacted with incomprehension to the Austrian approach: “In recent years there have always been question marks behind the things that have happened in Austria, so unfortunately there are obvious continuities. If the new beginning is to be successful, then it must be exactly that there are no continuities,” said the Green MP.

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