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Hader feeds a bear
Investigative reporter offers murder theory over death of Jörg Haider
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When Jörg Haider died in a car crash last year, many Austrians mourned the complex, fast-living populist. He may have been an admirer of Hitler’s employment policies, but he seemed to many rightwingers, frustrated with the Vienna Establishment, to hold the key to a new Austria.

Now pressure is growing to reopen the investigation into his death, and at least one investigative reporter is asking whether the 58-year-old politician was murdered.

“There are too many open questions,” said Gerhard Wisnewski, the author of the book Jörg Haider: Accident, Murder or Assassination? that has been selling quickly in Austria since it was launched last Tuesday. “After eight months of research I am convinced that it is highly probable that Haider was the victim of a politically motivated assassination.”

Neither the Haider family nor his political associates go quite that far, but they have been appealing this week for a more thorough look at the events of the night of October 10 last year.

“This case has to be reopened with an independent prosecutor . . . and with the involvement of international experts,” said Stefan Petzner, the former spokesman for Mr Haider and a leading figure in the right-wing BZOe party, the Alliance for the Future of Austria. He is threatening to mobilise a referendum on the issue unless the Justice Minister complies.

Mr Haider’s wife, Claudia, has also joined in the critical chorus, questioning the narrative provided by the police investigation team in the week after the crash. The police version, much of it leaked to the press before the official report, was that Mr Haider had visited various bars, including a reputedly gay hangout, on the night of Saturday October 10, in the town of Klagenfurt. He had drunk the equivalent of a bottle of vodka, according to blood sampling, and had driven at 142 kilometres per hour.

The car, a Phaeton limousine, had ricocheted from a fire hydrant into a noise-protection wall, against a tree and then bounced back on to the road about 100 metres farther along. Claudia has always denied rumours that her mercurial husband, the father of her two daughters, was gay and doubts many of the other details.

“The stretch of road was too short to have been able to accelerate to 140 kilometres per hour,” she told Bunte magazine. “And tell me please how a man is supposed to have drunk so much alcohol in barely an hour.”

On the night of Mr Haider’s death, he was out and about, celebrating the launch of a new magazine in the town of Velden from about 22.00 to at least 23.15, when he gave an interview to the radio station Antenne Kaernten.

Mr Haider was the Governor of Carinthia and a few days earlier he had brokered a peace between two nationalist parties, his BZOe and the Freedom party, which could have signified a comeback for the far Right in Austria; he was therefore newsworthy and closely observed. No one saw him take more than a few sips of sparkling wine.

Mr Haider was fit, a skier and a fan of extreme sports, and preferred to drink spritzer — white wine mixed with sparkling mineral water. That, according to the barman at the Stadtkraemer in Klagenfurt, is what he drank there, but barely touched his glass. At no time did he disappear from view. The autopsy established that despite the very high concentration of alcohol in his blood, there was almost no alcohol in his stomach.

Mr Haider then started the drive to his home, through mountain passes, to his family estate in the so-called Bear Valley. The politician’s Phaeton, a 2.5-tonne limousine, was Volkswagen’s top-of-the range vehicle. Somehow the powerful car was an almost complete write-off after the crash.

The two offside doors flew off and were found behind the wreck. Bits of the vehicle were found on a tree top. And according to Mr Wisnewski, who infiltrated the police garage where the wreck is held, the car has suspicious holes, as if it had been deliberately crushed by something resembling a digger truck off road, and then hoisted back on to the thoroughfare.

Mr Wisnewski senses a plot, but the case for murder is not plausibly presented.

The questions are, however, becoming an embarrassment for the Austrian authorities. They were closing ranks yesterday. “Everyone who believes they are in possession of new facts is cordially invited to present them to us,” said a spokesman for the Klagenfurt prosecutor’s office.

Roger Boyes in Berlin

Source > TIMES ONLINE |  Jul 04

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