BERLIN – Austria’s Foreign Ministry flatly rejected on Monday accusations by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which asserted over the weekend that Vienna is a major hub for Iranian money-laundering, in violation of UN and EU sanctions targeting Tehran’s nuclear program.
Oskar Deutsch, the head of Vienna’s Jewish community, slammed on Sunday Austria’s judges and political officials for “looking the other way” when Iran violates sanctions in the Central European country. He called for an inquiry and for transparency on the part of the Austrian government.
A spokesman for Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said the ministry “absolutely” rejected the accusation that Austria had not decisively implemented Iran sanctions, the Austria Presse-Agentur service reported.
The spokesman added that Vienna supported clear policies and penalty measures against Tehran.
After news organizations reported on an Iranian money-laundering network in Vienna, Austria’s Foreign Ministry commissioned — with help from the Austrian National Bank (ÖNB) — an examination of its banks. The ministry said the inquiry showed that the accusations “have no basis” and could not be substantiated.
The Jerusalem Post published a report on Sunday detailing the activities of an Iranian man who has operated in Vienna since 2007. He serves as an aide to Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and is a senior departmental director for the US-sanctioned Iran Center for Innovation and Technology Cooperation.
According to a late October report in the British Telegraph, the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), or People’s Mujahideen of Iran, formerly classified as a terrorist group, claimed “internal documents” from the center “suggest that the official has targeted Austria as a hub.”
The Telegraph report continued that the Iranian aide wrote in an analysis of the Central European country: “Austria’s capacities are very high and we have had good capacities with them since the Islamic Revolution [of 1979]. Currently we are in contact with some groups there regarding technology production who are indeed active in political economy too and have independent lobbies as well. It is also possible to use Austrian banks.”
The Austrian newsweekly profil reported recently that two Iranians and two Austrians are involved with “violating the embargo” of Iran and working with the Iran Center for Innovation and Technology Cooperation.
The Wiesenthal Center’s director for international relations, Dr. Shimon Samuels, told the Post that Vienna’s indifference toward Iran sanctions was no anomaly. “This is not a new story for Austria. Austria has been behaving like this for a while,” he said. He called on the EU to implement a monitoring mechanism for its 27 member states, and to penalize Austria for its failure to enforce sanctions.
Deutsch, the head of Vienna’s 7,500-member organized Jewish community, wrote the Post by email on Sunday, “The fundamental problem appears to us to exist less with the police authorities, who are likely aware of the activities by representatives of the Iranian Center for Innovation and Technology Cooperation in Austria, rather at the judicial and political levels.”
Deutsch added the political and judicial officials “take into consideration the economic interests of Austria. It is not by coincidence that Austria’s Chamber of Commerce organized seminars in which Austria companies were advised how they could circumvent sanctions.”