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Scandal in Austria: Did the OMV oil company spy on activists?


The mineral oil company OMV is one of the largest industrial companies in Austria - and is supposed to have climate activists monitored. The suspicion is now also preoccupying the government.

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OMV headquarters in Vienna

Photo: imago images / CHROMORANGE

It was no joke what the spokesmen for Greenpeace and Fridays for Future wrote to Rainer Seele, the head of OMV AG, on April 1st: How it could be that one of the largest Austrian corporations is putting "money into surveillance and monitoring measures" , "To monitor young people who work for a fairer future."

The reason for the outrage was information from the group that had been leaked to the activists.

In an email dated February 24, 2020, which was first reported by the Austrian magazine »Dossier«, OMV employees exchanged information about the security company Welund.

An OMV security manager writes to two colleagues:

"Would you both like to be included in emails from Welund (our target activism intelligence provider), this normally consists of a generic daily report listing global activism and then sporadic OMV specific emails." -Monitor? "

Those affected were mainly concerned because Welund is not a company that simply supplies press clippings.

On its website, the company, with offices in Great Britain and the USA, states that its specialty is "monitoring and analyzing threats from domestic and international campaign groups".

In addition to Chevron and Shell, Welund was at the service of almost all major oil companies and, according to the investigative portal "Mother Jones", was founded by a former agent of the British secret service MI6.

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The company itself names its employees' background in the police and secret services.

Welund left questions unanswered.

This is not the first time Welund has appeared in public in this context.

Last year London City Hall caused outrage when it called on surveillance specialists to get a grip on protests by Extinction Rebellion activists.

So now apparently also OMV, a mineral oil company that made 2019 sales of 23.5 billion euros in 2019 and in which the Austrian state has a 31.5 percent stake.

OMV denies the spy allegations

He would have expected a lot from OMV, but these measures "worried" him, says 19-year-old Aaron Wölfling from Fridays for Future.

"Instead of dealing with sustainable strategies for the future, one concentrates on an alleged threat from activists."

OMV itself, committed to the "greatest possible transparency" according to the corporate code, avoided questions about the type and scope of monitoring.

Contract and order details, so the monosyllabic answer to the activists, should be treated "confidentially".

An OMV spokesman told SPIEGEL that it was "miles away" from suppressing opinions or monitoring civil society.

All orders are legal, OMV does not spy on people, nor do they create dossiers on them.

"We perceive our surroundings," said the spokesman. Various companies would help with this and also evaluate social media.

OMV must do this solely to protect its production facilities and to be aware of any blockade actions.

Welund is also just a company that collects publicly available information.

But the collecting mania now also seems strange to the Austrian government.

The Green Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler has asked the head of the Austrian oil and gas multinational to clarify the allegations.

The mighty OMV seems to be taking it calmly.

From those around the group it is said that it is strange that the office of Vice Chancellor "plays the press office of an NGO".

The questionable corporate surveillance of activists has an inglorious tradition.

In 2017, Greenpeace New Zealand was able to document how employees of the organization were monitored and photographed by a private detective agency.

As of 2016, the US agricultural company Monsanto kept a secret list of critics from politics, science and the media who they wanted to "educate" and - in cases of particularly stubborn opponents - "monitor".

The Swiss food company Nestlé was particularly keen.

To monitor his opponents, he worked with a security company that even smuggled an employee into the circle of authors of a book critical of Nestlé.

However, she was then exposed.

Source: spiegel

All business articles on 2021-04-14

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