Due to tax procedures – audit team at “bites and coffee” in Benko’s office

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The “Benko Commission” started the second round of investigations on Wednesday, which is currently underway. Senior officials were questioned about the low interest rates and tax practices of Tyrolean financial juggler René Benko. Benko himself wanted to appear before the University Committee on Thursday. Now his lawyer has announced that he will not testify after all.

In any case, René Benko had no official role at Signa in 2020. Nevertheless, the Tyrolean financial juggler himself invited tax inspectors from the Innsbruck tax office to his office to, according to one of those present, present the Signa construction to them “in general terms”. For the ÖVP this is “a normal procedure when opening a tax audit procedure”, but for the opposition it is quite unusual.

According to the first respondent, the purpose of the meeting was “to introduce us to the Signa Group”, because we knew that the group was very extensive. At the meeting there was “coffee and something tasty”, but according to him such meetings are not unusual.

In terms of content, the focus of the investigation on Wednesday was initially on investigating the ‘Chalet N’, which would have served as a luxurious private home for René Benko and his guests. As the “Krone” revealed, Ukrainian oligarch Vadym Novynskyi was one of them. He would help finance Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and was only a guest in the luxury chalet in 2023.

The first respondent has audited a total of ten Signa Group companies for tax purposes as of 2018. What was striking was that Signa Luxury Collection did not pay the rent for Chalet N, which in turn is owned by another Signa company. It was also unusual that the claims on rent arrears did not earn any interest; This was not common at arm’s length and that is why he negotiated an appropriate interest rate. Arm’s length requires that transactions within a group be conducted in the same manner as with external third parties.

Tax office in the center
On Wednesday, Innsbruck’s tax office was the focus of the committee. Some of the invited respondents are in charge of audit matters in the Signa Group and are expected to present their views to the parliamentarians. The representatives of all factions – with the exception of the ÖVP – suspect that not everything was legally correct during audits in the Benko area – for example the Schlosshotel Igls GmbH or the “Chalet N”.

NEOS offers tax benefits
NEOS faction leader Yannick Shetty found a system in the Innsbruck tax office “in which it’s about who you know and not about what you can do,” he said, not for the first time. When Signa moved its headquarters from Vienna to Innsbruck in 2018, people became aware of it for the first time and an ‘insider’ came forward to paint a ‘dark’ picture. “It’s not about Benko, it’s about a system where rich people can count on tax benefits if they meet certain conditions.”

The second interviewee vehemently defended himself against individual accusations. According to him, the Innsbruck tax authorities had already imposed more on Benko in the past than was allowed at the time.

Benko does not appear
There were already doubts from various quarters as to whether Benko would testify before the University Committee – as announced in February. Now he canceled his planned performance for Thursday at short notice, as the “Krone” confirmed. Benko’s lawyer Norbert Wess justifies the rejection with the large number of factual statements made against his client. This makes it “effectively impossible at this time” to prepare the content for the U-Committee. Because Benko is not aware of the allegations against him, a statement under the obligation of truth is incompatible with human rights, according to Wess.

NEOS wants a fine
The cancellation is unlikely to have any consequences: the discussions in the COFAG committee end in May and there is no time for a new invitation. The NEOS will demand a fine. It is unlikely that it will be imposed: according to “Standaard”, the responsible administrative judge makes this dependent on the question of whether an information provider can appear before the U-Committee. This takes no time.

The director of the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets, Eduard Müller, is expected on Thursday. In any case, the third chairman of the National Council, Norbert Hofer (FPÖ), chaired the committee again on Wednesday. Chairman of the National Council Wolfgang Sobotka is currently in Israel to meet with President Yitzhak Herzog, among others.

Source: Krone

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