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Austria: Reds In The Black In Austria

Vienna, 23 December 1996 (RFE/RL) -- A Berlin court has ruled that assets seized from Austria's Communist Party are not the ill-gotten gains of the Stasi, the former East German secret police, and must be restituted.

The court ordered that cash and property worth the equivalent of as much as $140 million, seized by a German government agency, be restored to the party. The result could make the 5,000 Austrian reds members of one of the world's wealthiest far-left parties. Party members celebrated in their Vienna headquarters after the court decision was announced.

German authorities had alleged that the assets, related to two German companies, came from embezzled Stasi cash, money-laundering, and political corruption before and after German reunification. The court ruled, however, that the companies Novum and Transcarbon, and money and assets associated with them, properly belong to the Austrian Communist Party, the KPO. Baier said that the largest sum withheld from the KPO is $100 million in Switzerland. He said other large sums are in Germany.

Walter Baier, KPO leader, called the court decision, in his words: "our biggest political success in recent years."

A German trust company took the two firms into trust administration starting in 1992 on the grounds they were a camouflage for former East German wealth. According to the Communist newspaper Volkstimme (People's Voice), German authorities then expropriated the assets.

Austrian legal authorities also investigated the party's claims. A KPO spokesman quoted in the Volkstimme, said the investigation showed only that the KPO companies had profited substantially in dealings with socialist states during the cold war by refusing to comply with a boycott imposed by West Germany and the United States. Under former Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, Austria was one of the first European states to recognize East Germany. The KPO said this furthered trade relations.

The KPO assesses the Berlin judgment as a victory, but expects German authorities to appeal the verdict.