Spying scandal sheds light on Turkish intelligence activity in Austria

“Turkish espionage has no place in Austria. There is no place for Turkish influence on liberty and fundamental rights in Austria. We will fight against it vehemently,” said the Austrian interior minister
Wednesday 02/09/2020
An Austrian soldier stands on guard outside the Turkish embassy in Vienna. (AFP)
An Austrian soldier stands on guard outside the Turkish embassy in Vienna. (AFP)

VIENNA--Austria will file charges against a person who has confessed to spying for Turkey’s secret service, and authorities are investigating more suspected espionage activities, its interior minister said, warning Turkey this would not be tolerated.

Preliminary findings have shown Turkish intelligence to have tried to recruit Austrian nationals to spy on Turkish opposition in Austria and have alerted Vienna to Ankara’s attempts to interfere with the activities of legally-established Kurdish groups in the central European country.

“This is about an exertion of influence by a foreign power in Austria and this will in no way be accepted,” Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer told a news conference on Tuesday.

Turkey rejected the espionage accusations as “baseless.”

There were clear indications of Turkish influence in Austria, said the director general for public safety, Franz Ruf. The new findings came following extensive investigations by Austrian police after violent clashes between Turkish and Kurdish groups in Vienna in June.

One person has fully confessed to having been “recruited by the Turkish intelligence service to spy on other Turkish citizens or Austrian citizens with a Turkish migration background to then report them to the Turkish security authorities,” Nehammer said. He added that the judiciary will file charges on suspicion of espionage. He gave no details about the person.

Austria has found that more than 30 Austrians were detained in Turkey between 2018 and 2020 after entering the country and has indications that the Turkish intelligence services tried to recruit them, the interior minister said.

“Turkish espionage has no place in Austria. There is no place for Turkish influence on liberty and fundamental rights in Austria. We will fight against it vehemently,” Nehammer said, adding that Europol and the presidency of the European Council had been informed.

Later on Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said Ankara rejected the “baseless claims,” adding the comments showed Vienna was unable to “escape populist rhetoric and its anti-Turkey obsession.”

“We are astonished that the Austrian government has reached conclusions that implicate our country with unserious reflexes through these claims,” Aksoy said in a statement.

“We urge the Austrian government to stop chasing artificial agendas with shallow and domestic political calculations over Turkey, and act with state seriousness, common sense and sincere cooperation,” he added.

Other European countries, such as Germany, have previously complained about Turkish intelligence activities under the cover of cultural entities and Islamic centres.  Activities were reported to target Turks or Germans of Turkish origin perceived as hostile to Ankara’s government.