SAN FRANCISCO — Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi recently began sending millions of dollars to the Austrian province governed by Joerg Haider, de facto fuehrer of the far-right Freedom Party. This controversial deal, which Haider described as "Christmas for Austria," was forged during a pair of mysterious trips to Libya.
Accompanied by the chairman of Austria's Hypo Alpe Adria Bank, Haider held secret business meetings in Tripoli with Kadafi in May and June. Shortly thereafter, the Libyan Arab Foreign Bank, an affiliate of the Libyan National Bank, transferred the first installment of $25 million to the Hypo Bank, based in Klagenfurt, the capital of Carinthia. Kadafi's cash gift to Haider's province was meant to ease the strain of sanctions imposed by the European Union after the controversial Freedom Party joined Austria's national governing coalition.
This was the second rabbit Haider pulled out of his hat as a result of forays to Libya. At the end of May, Haider announced he was tackling Austria's high gas prices by arranging for Libyan oil to be sold in Carinthia at a discount prices. News photos showed Haider, the Porsche-driving populist, beaming as he pumped gas for motorists.
Financial considerations were not the sole motivation for Haider to cut a deal with Kadafi. Indicative of the Arab adage "The enemy of my enemy is my friend," the two men regard the same groups as foes. In an apparent reference to EU ties with Israel, Kadafi said, "Europe needs the interests of its people at the top of the agenda, and not those of a Zionist state." Urging Europe to get over its obsession with World War II, Kadafi lavished praise on Haider, who himself often trivializes Nazi atrocities.
Though Haider has denied claims that Libyan money helped his party's meteoric rise to power, concerns were fueled by Kadafi's son, Saif al-Islam, who lives in an exclusive Vienna suburb with his two pet white Bengali tigers. A fervent Freedom Party supporter, Saif al-Islam pledged to assist Haider during the next Austrian elections. "I will start a campaign for him," he told an Austrian magazine.
According to Profil, an Austrian news weekly, Haider's contacts with the Libyan regime date back to 1988, when the Freedom Party scored its first major electoral breakthrough. Initially, the Libyan connection was cultivated by then Freedom Party manager Harald Goeschl. At the time, Goeschl was rumored to have been involved in supplying weapons to Kadafi.
Kadafi's cordial relations with neo-fascists and right-wing extremists go back many years and extend to numerous countries. Searchlight, the London-based anti-fascist monitor, disclosed that old-guard German Nazis were involved in the construction of a chemical-warfare factory in Rabta, Libya, during the 1980s. A key figure in formulating plans for the Libyan poison gas plant was Volker Weissheimer, an unrepentant Third Reich veteran whose wartime efforts in the area of "special weapons" development had been personally praised by Adolf Hitler.
Intent on acquiring advanced military technology, Kadafi invested considerable financial resources in an Argentine effort to build a nuclear bomb in the mid-1970s. Libya's support for this project (which proved unsuccessful) was brokered by Licio Gelli, a shadowy Italian businessman with extensive neo-fascist connections in Europe and Latin America. While functioning as an honorary commercial attache of the Argentine embassy in Rome, Gelli also served as the "venerable master" of the P-2 Masonic lodge, an illegal secret society whose influential members have been implicated in a series of financial, political and espionage scandals that are still being investigated in Italy.
Initially, Gelli's main contact in Argentina was P-2 initiate Jose Lopez Rega, the commander of his country's police apparatus. Nicknamed Il Brujo ("the magician"), Lopez Rega had a way of making political dissidents and other citizens vanish without ever being heard from again. The explanation for such feats had less to do with sleight-of-hand than the intervention of the Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance, a death squad sponsored by Lopez Rega. Argentine journalist Jacobo Timmerman reported that Kadafi sheltered Lopez Rega in Libya after the Peronist government was overthrown by a coup in 1976.
Over the years, Kadafi has been wooed by several neo-fascist leaders, including Italian fugitive Stefano delle Chiaie, accused of masterminding a spate of bomb attacks in Rome and Milan. Described in a 1982 CIA report as "the most prominent rightist terrorist . . . still at large," delle Chiaie wrote to Kadafi, inviting him to join in a common struggle against "atheistic Soviet Marxism and American capitalist materialism," both allegedly controlled by "international Zionism."