Assessment - WKStA worries about potential leaks in antitrust proceedings

The ÖVP has publicly suspected the Economic and Corruption Prosecutor's Office (WKStA) of stabbing files in the media, and not just once. The WKStA has always resisted these suspicions - now, for its part, it locates the danger that in future secrets in cartel proceedings from the Ministry of Economic Affairs could leak to the outside. The background to this is an amendment to the competition law planned by the federal government and especially the ÖVP.

The legal adjustment provides for a very comprehensive reporting obligation by the Federal Competition Authority (BWB) to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, which is currently headed by Margarete Schramböck (ÖVP). The authority is basically free of instructions, but according to the draft, the minister should in future have the right to “inform herself at any time about all matters relating to management and the fulfillment of tasks by the federal competition authority”. The authority must also answer the minister "immediately and in writing on request to all related inquiries", "provided this does not contradict the independence of the federal competition authority [...]."

In her statement, the head of the Public Prosecutor's Office for Corruption and Corruption, Ilse-Maria Vrabl-Sanda, explains that the WKStA would work closely with the Federal Competition Authority in cartel proceedings and would also transmit personal data to it. "Should it be feared that the BWB would henceforth have to immediately transmit all information made available to it from public prosecution investigations to the BMDW (Ministry of Economic Affairs, note), which is not involved in criminal matters, at any time, the existing relationship of trust would be drawn into passion" Vrabl-Sanda.

Privacy issues and possible betrayal of secrets

On the one hand, there are data protection problems if the information in the ministry could “become known to a potentially unmanageable group of people”, as Vrabl-Sanda writes. On the other hand, this reporting obligation could endanger investigative measures indirectly through the BWB. These are "the more at risk, the more people are informed of their imminent execution". Explicit reference is made to the bad experiences with reporting obligations of the WKStA to the senior public prosecutor's office, which were "switched off again" on instructions. Coercive measures are also repeatedly used in cartel proceedings. It was not until March that there were large-scale raids in the garbage industry because of suspected collusion.

In the explanations of the planned amendment, the information passed on to the minister is justified by the fact that it is constitutionally provided that the supreme organs can inform themselves in their supervisory law about non-instructional bodies "at least about all matters of management". According to Vrabl-Sanda, however, the design goes “in three ways over the top”. The right to information should be able to be exercised “at any time”, the BWB must comply “immediately” and the right to information is not only limited to the matters of management but also to the “fulfillment of the tasks of the Federal Competition Authority” and thus also to the BWB's investigative activities.

The legislative package, which is currently under review until May 18, was introduced by the Ministry of Justice. Economics Minister Schramböck also referred to this when the project was first criticized. The Ministry of Justice, led by Alma Zadic (Greens), did not want to comment specifically on the planned reporting obligation of the federal competition authority and passed the ball back to Schramböck. In the case of the package, one is only responsible for the changes in antitrust law, the competition law is a matter for the Ministry of Economic Affairs. (sir)