Styria – Investigations into abuse of office surrounding environmental proceedings

The Graz public prosecutor’s office has started an investigation against two officials from the Styrian state government, a judge and an entrepreneur, according to the “Kronen Zeitung” on Tuesday. A spokesman confirmed the APA investigations against four people. It is about abuse of office, corruption or bribery, in Styrian procedures for environmental compatibility (EIA). Environment State Councilor Ursula Lackner (SPÖ) called for a quick clarification, the state parliament opposition is not surprised.

An anonymous tip on the federal whistleblower website led to the investigation. The public prosecutor’s office has been investigating four people since July of this year, said spokesman Arnulf Rumpold to the APA. The Federal Office for the Prevention and Fight against Corruption (BAK) has also been conducting investigations on behalf of the public prosecutor since October.

The environmental impact assessments for numerous large projects such as wind farms or power plants are said to have not been legally carried out for several years, according to a statement of the facts to the Economic and Corruption Prosecutor (WKSta), the newspaper reported. It is suspected that the project operators themselves, and not the officials, wrote the notifications that were positive for the projects. The investigating authorities also check whether experts who have issued negative notices in the context of an EIA procedure have been replaced by “courtesy experts”. The presumption of innocence applies to the accused.

State councilor calls for full clarification

“These are serious allegations that are being raised here. They must be completely cleared up as quickly as possible. The country will fully and unreservedly participate in the investigation,” said Regional Councilor Ursula Lackner, according to state communications. “The State Office Directorate has already sent all the requested documents to the public prosecutor’s office. It is important to me that the investigative authorities are supported in their work so that everyone can get a clear picture as soon as possible and trust in the authority can be restored.”

The opposition in the Styrian state parliament was not completely surprised in view of the investigations: This made “many decisions of the state in the past few years appear in a different light”, said the green state parliament club chairwoman Sandra Krautwaschl, who “expressly welcomes” the investigation. Because “there have been suspicions for a long time”, she recalled, according to a broadcast, “a noticeable number of Styrian EIA decisions, which often did not hold up in the next instance”. You have complete confidence in the investigations of the judiciary, said the club boss.

In addition, they want to address an urgent request to the responsible regional councilor Ursula Lackner (SPÖ) about the cause in the state parliament session next Tuesday. According to Krautwaschl, they assume that the top officials concerned will be withdrawn from their current responsibilities.

In view of the revelations, the FPÖ needs a quick clarification regardless of the public prosecutor’s investigations. “The allegations that became known today in relation to various processes in Department 13 of the State of Styria weigh heavily,” said LAbg. Gerald Deutschmann. The state government is called upon to provide complete clarification as soon as possible. In addition, internal processes need to be reassessed and audit mechanisms evaluated.

A striking number of positive EIA decisions

KPÖ and Neos reacted similarly: KPÖ-LAbg. Werner Murgg said that reports could have been signed immediately instead of an independent review as required. In any case, it is noticeable that in Styria, in contrast to other federal states, almost all EIA applications were approved. The KPÖ will send a request to Environment Councilor Lackner at the next session of the state parliament. “In the case of many large-scale projects that have been approved in recent years, the question arose as to how they could even be approved,” said Murgg.

For Neos-LAbg. Robert Reif is “Transparency the best disinfectant.” The state should immediately make all reports and EIA procedure files of major projects public. (apa)

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