Special Commission „Fur-Animal“

Political Background of the Special Commission „Fur-Animal“

The repression against animal rights activists and political activists in general is not only a trend in Austria. In most European countries anti-terror and racketeering laws are being used to surveil and criminalise political movements.
The current case in Austria nevertheless has its very unique political background, which first became known to the public through the publication of internal papers from the Interior Ministry by a Green Party politician.
Since 2000, Austrian animal rights activists have participated in international campaigns against the sale of fur in clothing chains. After international companies like Peek & Cloppenburg and C&A made public that they would discontinue the sale of real fur after intense protests, Austrian activists took aim at Austria’s largest clothing company Kleider Bauer. The company’s executives, consisting of the two brothers Peter and Werner Graf, refused all dialogue, thus protests began against the clothing company throughout Austria in Autumn of 2006.
Several times, acts of property damage done at night against Kleider Bauer were made known, which anonymous activists (including activists of the Animal Liberation Front) publicised.
In April 2007, the private automobiles of the two CEOs of Kleider Bauer were damaged. Those were two of about 4,500 cases of major property damage that are committed yearly countrywide. Even the policed had counted up until that point merely 13 incidents of property aimed against the clothing industry. The property damage to the two Kleider Bauer cars was handled differently than the 4500 crimes of the same nature.
In the days following the incident Peter and Werner Graf met with top officials from the Interior Ministry. They appear to have applied pressure to the police and announced, they would turn to the media. The police should protect economic interests and take hard measures against the protests.
Another meeting on the following day was held with all the top officials of the various Viennese police forves and the Interior Ministry: General Director Erik Buxbaum, his representative Franz Lang, the then-chief of police Peter Stiedl, Alice Höller from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Fighting Terrorism (BVT), Erich Zwettler from the Federal Crime Investigation Office (BK).
There the chief of police in Vienna was ordered, „to use all administrative possibilities to deny permits for the protests in fron of Kleider Bauer.“ Thus it is clear: the business interests of the company Kleider Bauer stand above the freedom of assembly of the animal rights activists. The then-chief of police pointed immediately to a problem, „As far as the property damage is concerned, there has been up until now no clear connection between the protests and the propert damage. The suspicion of a connection is obvious, but the investigations have led to know circumstancial or direct evidence so far.“ And nevertheless, „The director welcomes the aggreement of the chief of police to use all legal means to deny permits to the protests.“
Besides this the local Office for Protecting the Constitution and Fighting Terrorism (LVT) was brought on board and trusted with the observation of the protests and the systematic compilation of all crimes with a relation to animal rights.
At the same meeting the establishment of „an operating special commission within the Federal Police in Vienna“ under the heading of the Federal Crime Investigation Office was decided. This special commission should consist of members of the Federal Crime Investigation Office and the local and federal Office for Protecting the Constitution and Fighting Terrorism.
On April 219, 2007 the countrywide special commission „Fighting Organised Criminality Aimed Against the Clothing Industry“ (otherwise known as „SOKO Fur-Animal or SOKO Clothing“) was finally formed in the seminar room of the Federal Criminal Investigation Office. There the tasks were divided up: contact with the German authorities over similar cases, crime scene management, evaluation of claims of responsibility, contact with the extremism-division of Europol and the attainment of information from Kleider Bauer. The SOKO employed 32 officers. In addition they were assisted by observation teams from the Federal Criminal Investigation Office.
The investigations of the SOKO included research/spying on the structure of the animal rights scene, investigations into the funding of individual groups and their international networks. The methods of investigating applied ranged from crime scene analysis, techinal and personal surveillance, undercover agents, questioning of witnesses, telephone and financial investigations and foreign investifations. More details about the investigation methods.
Because the animal rights activists could not be accused of anything specific, they were proclaimed a „criminal organisation“ according to §278a of the Austria Penal Code.
Even in the following months the SOKO was not able to find out anything relevant. Nevertheless they registered the case with the prosecutors in Wiener Neustadt. The prosecutor, Wolfgang Handler, was ready to take over the case and sign off on all technically possible surveillance methods.
On December 18, 2007 the SOKO reported its first „big break“, „In the area of the direct results of the investigations, XY can be implicated in an act of property damage based on DNA-analysis on hand.“ This refers to a window broken at the time of a meeting of the extreme-right, neonazi AFP. The damage: 80 Euros. The actual strength of this „piece of evidence“ is furthermore very controversial.
At that point in time the goal of the police operation was already a done deal: „House searches and arrest warrants against the activists in- and outside of the country in simultaneous execution.“
And that’s exactly how it happened on May 21, 2008 . To the further events.
Here is all the information summarised and easily readable from the protocols of the Interior Ministry published by the Green Party politician Peter Pilz (in German):