Privacy violation vs public interest
One of Germany’s heads of data protection and privacy agencies says the publication by newspapers of the secretly-filmed video of Austrian politician Heinz-Christian Strache discussing potential bribes for contracts while on vacation, violates privacy law and may be criminal, as well as harmful to political culture. The video, filmed in a house rented by Strache in Ibiza in 2017 while he was on vacation, contains footage of Strache discussing offering government contracts in exchange for political support in the media. The discussion was with a Russian woman who posed as a fake foreign investor, allegedly looking to invest in Austria.
At that time, Strache was one of the leaders of the political party called the Freedom Party (“FPÖ“).
In the video, he is told that the Russian woman negotiated to buy a newspaper called Kronen Zeitung and that she would use the newspaper to promote the FPÖ during the elections. Strache was not aware he was being recorded. When the secret video was leaked two years later, he resigned as vice chancellor of Austria. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, also of the FPÖ, called an election after Strache resigned. Kronen Zeitung stated that is had never held discussions to sell the newspaper and that the story was made up.
The newspapers that published the video face significant monetary fines if found liable for breaching privacy and data protection laws. They have argued that they only published those parts of the video involving the discussions of the awarding of government contracts, and nothing else, and they have argued that the publication was in the public interest because Strache was running in the election. The German data protection and privacy head made a statement that publishing a video secretly made without knowledge or consent of the person being recorded, in their private residence, adds to the wrongdoing.
Strache has since filed his own lawsuit for privacy violations and for other harm against the people who orchestrated the sting operation in Ibiza, including a private investigator and the Russian woman who posed as a fake foreign investor. According to the media in Germany, the three defendants say they set up the sting in Ibiza because they were trying to uncover potential political corruption.
Although the Ibiza incident involves Austrian politicians, the secret video was published in Germany.
Strache won the election three months after the 2017 video and became Austria’s vice chancellor.
The secretly filmed video
The video films Strache and the deputy mayor of Vienna, Johann Gudenus and his wife, at a house in Ibiza with two other strangers – a Russian women with long black hair who identified herself as Alyona Makarova and a German man with her. The newspapers edited both her and the German man out of those portions of the published video. In the video, she informs Strache that she is the niece of Russian oligarch Igor Makarov, and that she is extremely rich and friends with Putin. The woman was not Alyona Makarova, or related to a Russian oligarch or an acquaintance of Putin.
In the video, she tells Strache she wants to invest a few hundred million euros in Austria and wants to know if they can work together. She said her plan was to buy 50% of Kronen Zeitung and to use the newspaper to back the FPÖ in the election. In response to the question as to whether they could work together, at first Strache asks in the video if she is kidding, saying that she was “hot.”
The video is six hours long and during most of it, the Russian asks Strache what she would get in return for helping him. During the course of the secret tapings, while Strache repeatedly emphasized that he could only do a deal that was legal, he also agreed to proposals that, if they had been implemented, would have constituted political corruption. He also discussed her donating to the party in ways that could be concealed if they were made through corporate vehicles. The Russian informed Strache that her money was not “actually entirely legal.”
German media confirm that Strache and Gudenus were lured into a trap and that the Russian woman was simply acting as a decoy to get them on tape willing to accept bribes. Neither Strache nor Gudenus spoke Russian and the woman did not speak German, so they went through the unidentified German man who was with the woman to interpret the conversation for six hours. The set up was in the works for three months in Vienna before the meeting in Ibiza took place.
The Ibiza video is here.