© APA/ROBERT JAEGER
Vienna – It was only in mid-January that Palmers boss and Hygiene Austria managing director Tino Wieser got excited about the procurement of around 17 million FFP2 masks for over 65-year-olds by the turquoise-green federal government. The masks are made in China, certified in Turkey and imported by a Lower Austrian company, Wieser complained in the Salzburger Nachrichten.
Now Hygiene Austria – a joint venture between Lenzing and Palmers – is itself faced with serious allegations. The company is said to have bought masks from China cheaply, relabelled them and sold them at a higher price than Austrian products. In addition, the company is accused of organized illegal work. Hygiene Austria rejects the allegations.
After initially denying this, the mask manufacturer then admitted to having bought Chinese products to compensate for peaks in orders. And the masks were certified in Hungary. The CE mark of the masks was made by the Hungarians, a Swiss institute took over the quality control for the purchased Chinese masks, as a Hygiene Austria spokesman says.
Until recently, supermarkets had the FFP2 masks from Hygiene Austria in their range. What about those that are floating around – are they useless? In response to a request from the Tiroler Tageszeitung, the Federal Office for Metrology and Surveying said: “If a mask has a certification – that is, with the CE mark and a four-digit number – the customer can assume that this mask complies with the FFP2 standard. “
After the raid on two locations in Vienna and Wiener Neudorf, more and more details come to light – especially in connection with the procurement process for the free FFP2 masks for seniors. Profile and Standard quote from secret documents.
Accordingly, the “65+” project was discussed in the Council of Ministers in November. However, the relevant Ministerial Council lecture was not published. During the preliminary discussions, Hygiene Austria was the only Austrian provider to sit at the (virtual) table. Although the Council of Ministers itself did not determine the provenance of the FFP2 masks – according to a letter from a senior official to the head of the cabinet of Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens), it was “on the edge clearly communicated” that “the Federal Government was involved in this project like Austrian companies
Would procure products ”. Who would have been eligible for it? Hygiene Austria is “currently the only Austrian provider for this”, cited the profile. This is spicy because the office manager of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) is related by marriage to Tino Wieser, her husband is Luca Wieser, co-director of Palmers.
Back to the “65+” project: Even then, according to media reports, there were indications of quality deficiencies in the hygiene masks, which, however, apparently did not initially provide any reason for the government to look for another provider. In the end, however, because of the significant price difference, it was not Hygiene Austria that came into play, but an Austrian dealer with CE-certified goods from China.
The opposition sees something dubious. Next week, the SPÖ and NEOS want to address the issue of Hygiene Austria in the “small committee of inquiry” on procurement policy in the corona pandemic. Why was the company even considered for the FFP2 mask delivery for seniors despite the higher price, asks SPÖ vice club boss Jörg Leichtfried. He also wants to know whether there was an attempt by the federal government to favor Hygiene Austria when awarding the contract – and whether there is a connection with the personal relationship between company management and the Chancellor’s environment.
NEOS also ask similar questions. Vice club boss Nikolaus Scherak locates a “comprehensive transparency problem”.
For the FPÖ, the case is a reason for a political change. Party leader Norbert Hofer describes a new election of the National Council as “overdue” because: “The Austrian federal government shares responsibility.”
The Chancellor sees no political wrongdoing in the matter. Kurz, who, like other ÖVP politicians, had visited the headquarters of Hygiene Austria, said yesterday when journalists asked whether he too had been duped: “If there is fraud here, then we have all been defrauded.” (Sas, APA )