"I wanted to help Israel and certainly did not do anything wrong," said Herr
Sichrovsky who was secretary-general of Herr Haider's Freedom party and a
member of the European Parliament. The Austrian state prosecutor said
yesterday that he would open an investigation to determine whether Herr
Sichrovsky should be prosecuted. Spying for a foreign power carries a jail
sentence of up to three years in Austria.
The revelations, in the news weekly Profil, stunned the Austrian political
class. Herr Sichrovsky, who is of Jewish origin, was a controversial figure
for the conservative Right. The Jewish community regarded him as a traitor
for working with Herr Haider, while anti-Semitic Freedom party activists
made no secret of their distrust.
The Freedom party became a member of Austria's governing coalition in 1999,
prompting a diplomatic boycott by the European Union. Herr Haider had
publicly praised the SS and Hitler's employment policies. Israel withdrew
Herr Sichrovsky was supposed to help Herr Haider to make peace with the
Jewish community. But at the same time the Israeli secret service was
anxious to know what Herr Haider was up to.
"I was certainly not a James Bond," said Herr Sichrovsky, now a businessman
concerned with military co-operation between Israel and China. "It's true,
though, that I co-operated with Mossad until my withdrawal from politics in
Herr Haider had extensive contacts with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan
leader, and enjoyed a close friendship with one of the dictator's
sons. "Israel wanted to use Haider as a bridge to Arab countries with which
it did not have official contacts," Herr Sichrovsky said.
His ties with the Israelis went well beyond occasional debriefings. In the
autumn of 2000 Herr Sichrovsky held talks with Syrian politicians about the
fate of three Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah in Lebanon. He was
accompanied by Herbert Scheibner, the Austrian Defence Minister, who was
also a member of the Freedom party. The idea was to demonstrate to both the
European Union and to Israel that Austria was a respectable member of the
Herr Sichrovsky helped to arrange secret meetings in Austria between Israeli
and Palestinian negotiators. Yesterday he claimed to have set up Herr
Haider's controversial visit to Baghdad to meet Saddam Hussein in 2002. At
the last minute Herr Sichrovsky was denied an Iraqi visa so he could not
pass on first-hand information to Mossad. "They were, in any case, sure
that Haider was meeting a double," he said.
Herr Haider remained calm yesterday. He said: "There were always people in
the party who warned me that he'd been sent by Mossad but there was never
anything concrete. If he was really sent by a secret service, then he must
have given them very little."