Who is Alfred Gusenbauer, the new advisor to Serbia’s power-consolidating oligarch tamer, Aleksandar Vucic? The Serbian leader has said he wants to hire some prominent consultants from abroad but unfortunately, he keeps approaching guys like “Gusi” (as some call him back home). At first glance, the ex-Kanzler of Austria looks like any other “uninspiring party apparatchik”. But go beyond his Wikipedia page and you’ll see he’s grown into a rather controversial former statesman.
For starters, thousands of Romanians demonstrated against Gusenbauer’s Canadian mining company this week in the “largest environmental protests of the post-communist era”. Gusi and the seven other old rich men who serve as the directors for Gabriel Resources have been waiting years to begin work on the Rosia Montana Project, envisioned as Europe’s biggest gold mine in the Apuseni mountains of western Romania. They say the four mining pits will be more than eight kilometers in diameter, and will be visible from space. Protesters are especially troubled by the fact that Gabriel Resources plans to use cyanide to extract gold from the ore, a process that has already resulted in many terrible incidents around the world, including Romania. Now it looks like Gusenbauer may finally get the Romanian parliament’s approval to build the fantasy gold mine.
Another problematic finding about the former Chancellor: As of this June he is reportedly being investigated on suspicion that he supplied intelligence to the president of Kazakhstan. Gusi denies all charges. He does not deny, however, that he is president Nursultan Nazarbayev’s advisor (to be fair, Kanye West also hangs with the autocrat). And there is no question that Nazarbayev is a dictator: He’s been president of Kazakhstan since before the fall of the Soviet Union, and criticizing him is a criminal offense. He has been called “the ultimate oligarch”, and is believed to have stolen at least a billion dollars from Kazakhstan’s oil revenues. In 2011, his police “showered bullets” on oil workers who’d gone on strike protesting poor working conditions and unpaid wages. The exact number of workers killed in the Zhanaozen massacre is the subject of some dispute, though it’s possible that there were up to 70 deaths. On the government of Kazakhstan’s website, Gusenbauer praises Nazarbayev, and says that Kazakhstan can serve “as an example to other states”. For advising the dictator, Gusenbauer is allegedly paid “annual fees in the seven figures”.
And then there was the bank. The graft-ridden Hypo Group Alpe-Adria had branches across the Balkans, and grew rapidly before it completely crashed and burned. The Austrian government had to nationalize it just to keep it afloat. But before that, Gusi was the bank’s paid consultant. Hypo Group Alpe-Adria was deeply entangled with the far-right Austrian politician Jorg Haider, who “drained its resources” — at least 500 million euros — to pay for popular development projects. Haider, who died in a drunk driving accident in 2008, was known for his controversial, “Nazi” views: He praised veterans of the SS as men of “character” and “conviction”. And when he died, Gusenbauer spoke at his memorial service in Vienna, extolling Haider for having “an excellent feeling” for what needed to change in Austrian politics.
The bank scandal that prompted “the biggest white collar criminal investigation in Austrian history”, also involved Ivo Sanader, the disgraced former prime minister of Croatia. Sanader, who is currently serving a ten-year prison sentence for corruption, is said to have accepted 545,000 euros in kickbacks from the bank in 1995. In fact, during the Yugoslav wars, the Croatian government funneled money used to purchase weapons through the bank.
Hypo is also alleged to have helped notorious Montenegrin-Serbian fugitive and elusive coke smuggler Darko Saric launder 100 million euros through a building site in Belgrade, which the bank is said to have co-owned. Meanwhile, Gusenbauer just quietly kept pocketing his 60,000 euros in “economic consultancy” fees. Before the bank collapsed, of course.
In June 2010, Gusi became the chief of the supervisory board for Austria’s largest construction firm, Strabag. The following month, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripska — one of the richest men in the world, with a net worth of 8.5 billion euros as of March — bought a 17.6 percent stake in the company. The following year, Strabag was implicated in a major corruption scandal in Serbia involving the country’s state-owned railway company. And Strabag still has a major presence in Serbia, where it posted an output of 72 million euros last year.
So another round of applause for Mr. Vucic. The men he’s tapped as foreign “advisors” — Strauss-Kahn, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, Gusi, and former American Ambassador William Montgomery — are a very consistent bunch. It’s nice to know that if you ever wreck your reputation by allowing yourself to become associated with activities of dubious legality and/or morality — you can always go to Serbia or Kazakhstan and help men like Mr. Vucic or Mr. Nazarbayev fight corruption.