Signa’s Benko Fined by Lawmakers in Rare Public Appearance

(Bloomberg) -- Rene Benko, the Austrian erstwhile billionaire now fighting bankruptcy, appeared before a parliamentary inquiry probing payments to his insolvent Signa group. He was fined for refusing to answer a lawmaker’s questions.

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It was the first time Benko appeared publicly in the Austrian capital since his Signa conglomerate descended into financial turmoil at the end of last year. The parliamentary committee convened Wednesday to investigate coronavirus-era payments to companies, including more than a million euros to Chalet N, a hotel allegedly used by Benko as a private residence. Benko has denied the allegations.

During more than five-hours of questioning, Benko frequently invoked his right to demur from answering questions that could implicate him in wrongdoing. The ex-tycoon is also the subject of multiple investigations and court claims linked to Signa.

Read More: Arrogance, Opacity and Debt Triggered Signa’s Dramatic Collapse

But a late query asked by Yannick Shetty, a junior member from the opposition Neos party, forced Benko’s hand. The liberal lawmaker wanted to know whether former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz or other politicians had ever spent time with him at the luxury-chalet he developed, registered as a hotel in Lech, Austria. The investigative committee chair allowed Shetty’s line of questioning and ordered Benko to answer.

When Benko refused, suggesting that doing so risked self incrimination, he was slapped with a probable fine of as much as €1,000 euros ($1,084).

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