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Austria Under Fire for Promoting Trade with Teheran

Benjamin Weinthal
17th December 2010 - Jerusalem Post

The Austrian Chamber of Commerce's decision early this month to hold a workshop in Vienna to expand trade with Iran has sparked criticism from Austria's Jewish community and the European NGO Réalité EU.

"The Chamber of Commerce is advising firms on how to circumvent the sanctions against Iran," the Jewish community said on its website.

"Michael Tockuss, of the German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce, the most important lobbyist of the Holocaust- denying regime in Teheran," was invited, the Jewish community said.

Austria has contributed to "the diligent construction of commemorative plaques and memorials since the Shoah," but the Chamber of Commerce does not shy away from trade with Iran, the 7,500-member Jewish community said.

According to the community's statement, current Iranian-Austrian trade relationship reminds one "that under the Nazis, German- Austrian industry profited from the annihilation of Jews."

The Jewish community statement termed Austria's business deals with Teheran "disgraceful and morally reprehensible."

Dr. Diana Gregor, a political analyst and researcher with Réalité EU, an organization that tracks European- Iranian trade, told The Jerusalem Post this week that "Austria has the reputation of being docile toward Iran."

In June 2009 and this month, the Austrian Chamber of Commerce held seminars to "intensify" business with Iran, said Gregor, an authority on Austrian-Iranian economic relations.

"There are roughly 680 Austrian companies that have business relations with Iranian firms or the Iranian state. Some 35 Austrian firms have local branches in Iran and another 500 companies occasionally conduct business with Islamic Republic," she said.

"Austrian companies are earning good money in Iran" but rarely talk publicly about the activity, Gregor added.

Austria's exports to the Islamic Republic have increased by 6 percent since the global economic crisis began, she said.

Responding to the criticism, the Austrian Chamber of Commerce said in a statement on its website that "in no way" will the seminar "show participating companies ways to circumvent international sanctions against Iran."

According to the chamber, the concern is to explain to Austrian companies "the restrictions to be considered when commencing business relations with Iran."

Gregor termed the Chamber of Commerce's explanation a "lame excuse" and a "whitewash" of the real purpose of the workshop.

"The Austrian chamber of commerce is continually promoting the expansion of trade relations with the Islamic Republic and is proud of the past performance," she said.

She cited Christoph Leitl, the chamber's president, as someone who "not only supports the expansion but also actively solicits" Iranian trade.

The workshop showcased a who's who of Austrian political and business leaders. According to the Jewish community, the attendees included Michael Friedl, Austria's trade representative in Teheran; Dr. Gerta Mlejnek from the chamber; and Dr. Helmut Krehlik of the Austrian Ministry for Economy, Family and Youth.

Dr. Robert Granditsch, from the Austrian Federal Financial Ministry, was also present, as was Ferdinand Schipfer from the Österreichische Kontrollbank Aktiengesellschaft (OeKB), a company owned by Austria's commercial banks that is the country's chief "provider of financial and information services to the export industry and the capital market."

Representatives of German companies also participated in the seminar. Dr. Julia Pfeil of the Chicago-based Baker & McKenzie law firm's Frankfurt office and Hans-Anton Sapper, chief executive officer of the Sapper Global ECS (Export Control Solutions) software company in Kempen, North Rhine-Westphalia, were listed.

Tags

austria, iran-sanctions