Austria’s love of cash in poll campaign spotlight

A customer pays for the shopping at a fruit stand at a market in Vienna. Experts believe Austrians are wary of anything that could be used to keep tabs on them. (AFP)
Updated 26 August 2019

Austria’s love of cash in poll campaign spotlight

  • Even 17 years after the euro came into circulation, some Austrians are still finding notes and coins in their previous currency, the schilling, much of it left in forgotten hiding places in homes

VIENNA: It may sound like a strange thing to enshrine in a country’s constitution: The right to pay cash.
But a debate on whether to do just that has entered Austria’s election campaign, shining a light on the country’s love of cold, hard currency.
The Austrian People’s Party (OeVP) recently made the suggestion as part of its campaign for a parliamentary election in late September, for which it has a commanding poll lead.
This led to other parties — though skeptical of the OeVP’s proposal — vaunting their commitment to protecting cash, with the center-left Social Democrats (SPOe) demanding an end to fees levied at cashpoints. And it is not hard to see why all major parties see protecting cash as a vote-winner.
“In Austria, attitudes change slowly,” an employee of Weinschenke, a burger restaurant in downtown Vienna, told AFP.
The woman in her 30s, who only gave her name as Victoria, says she prefers to use cash because “you don’t leave a trace.”
Financial law expert Werner Doralt says Austrians put a high value on privacy and are wary of anything that could be used to keep tabs on them, such as card transactions.
“If for example I go shopping, and it’s recorded exactly how much schnapps I’ve bought, that’s an invasion of my privacy,” he says.
A recent survey conducted by the ING bank in 13 European countries, Australia and the US, showed Austrians were the most resistant to the idea of giving up cash payments.
Just 10 percent of those surveyed in Austria said they could imagine doing without cash, compared to a European average of 22 percent.
According to European Central Bank data compiled in 2017, cash accounted for 67 percent of money spent at points of sale in Austria, compared to just 27 percent in the Netherlands. Even in neighboring Germany, another country known for its attachment to cash, the rate is only 55 percent.

SPEEDREAD

• In Austria, citizens prefer to use cash because ‘you don’t leave a trace.’

• According to data compiled in 2017, cash accounted for 67 percent of money spent at points of sale in Austria, compared to just 27 percent in the Netherlands.

• In neighboring Germany, another country known for its attachment to cash, the rate is only 55 percent.

Academic and author Erich Kirchler, a specialist in economic psychology, says in Austria and Germany, citizens are aware of the dangers of an overmighty state from their World War II experience. “In that case the efficiency of state institutions becomes dangerous,” Kirchler told AFP.

‘Lived freedom’
It is a theory that finds a resounding echo in the slogan printed in bold on the menu of one Vienna restaurant and bar, Caffe Latte: “Cash is lived freedom!”
“When we have no more cash, we become totally exposed. A totalitarian state would then have unfettered power over us,” the menu reads.
Admittedly the cafe accepts cards as its owner Philipp Klos says he has to think about business too.
“In five years, there will be no more cash. I’m 100 percent sure,” he told AFP, saying the OeVP proposal to amend the constitution is “empty talk.”

Other parties and experts have also pointed out that Austria would not have the unilateral right to protect cash through constitutional changes because it uses the euro, which is under the purview of the European Central Bank.
Even 17 years after the euro came into circulation, some Austrians are still finding notes and coins in their previous currency, the schilling, much of it left in forgotten hiding places in homes.
The haul from under the nation’s mattresses, which until now could be exchanged at the “Euro-Bus” of the Austrian National Bank (OeNB), which toured the country, was almost 19 million schillings (€1.38 million) this year.


Case against Ghosn excuse to get him out of Nissan, claim lawyers

Updated 13 November 2019

Case against Ghosn excuse to get him out of Nissan, claim lawyers

  • The former motor giant chief’s legal team has alleged that both his arrest and the prosecution efforts have been illegal

TOKYO: The drama surrounding the arrest of Carlos Ghosn, former boss of motor giants Nissan and Renault, has yet to reach its climax. Yet the plot continues to thicken with each new development.

On Monday, Ghosn’s defense lawyers unveiled court submissions highlighting the circumstances in which the 65-year-old executive was arrested and subsequently held in detention.

“We believe that Mr. Carlos Ghosn is innocent. We believe that the arrest and the prosecution efforts thus far are illegal and therefore Mr. Ghosn should be immediately released,” the head of his defense team, Junichiro Hironaka, said during a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan in Tokyo on Monday.

Hironaka claimed that Nissan wanted to kick out Carlos Ghosn from the company and therefore put together a team dedicated to searching around for something that would justify them to do that.

“This prosecution motion wasn’t initiated because the prosecution side believed that Mr. Ghosn had committed an illegal act. Fundamentally there is a problem with this being treated as a criminal act,” he said.

Hironaka further said that the prosecutor’s office is supposed to be acting in the public good for everyone and not behalf of a specific corporation.

“From the investigation level, there were various problems and mistakes with this case. Furthermore, the Japanese persecution office can’t reach overseas so they rely on Nissan employees to go into Mr. Ghosn’s offices and residences and removed objects illegally,” he said.

Hironaka said there is no evidence to support the alleged wrongdoing claim that Nissan made payments to SBA in Oman, and Ghosn re-directed that money to himself or his family.

“The amounts that were paid by Nissan matched exactly the amounts due to SBA,” he said.

The lawyer had a similar response to the reports connecting some donations by Ghosn to a school in Lebanon that would somehow benefit himself. “There is absolutely no evidence or factual basis for indicating that,” Hironaka said.

He said that his team is trying to access correct information and find out what evidence the prosecution might have.

“I have made an effort to share information with the media, including the foreign media, during this whole pre-trial motion,” he said.

Under the Japanese system, the prosecutors are not required to disclose all the evidence at their disposal. Japanese law requires that prosecutors must disclose anything related to any evidence related to the specific filings they make.

They must also disclose any evidence that is related to the filings that are made by the defense counsel. However, there is no requirement for them to disclose evidence from other parts.

Ghosn was arrested at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on Nov. 19, 2018, on multiple charges related to his stewardship of the two companies.

The cases involved not only Nissan-Renault and Japan’s Mitsubishi Motors (part of the Franco-Japanese alliance), but also the Japanese and French governments along with various key players from Asia and the Middle East.

Nissan was on the brink of bankruptcy in March 1999, with about 2 trillion yen ($17.6 billion) in interest-bearing debt.

This is when it entered a capital partnership with major French automaker Renault SA. Ghosn has been credited for turning the company around dramatically since then.

However, fears that the high-profile CEO and chairman was planning to merge Nissan into a much larger multinational motor alliance appeared to have fueled speculation regarding the future of the company.

It was reportedly argued within Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government that the automaker would no longer be recognizably Japanese.

The case has larger ramifications and the two governments have routinely become involved in discussions related to its future.

According to news reports, when Macron and Abe met in Buenos Aires, the French president asked that the Franco-Japanese alliance be maintained.

On being asked by Arab News Japan about reports of a prosecution team visiting Saudi Arabia and Oman, Hironaka confirmed that the visit indeed took place after Ghosn’s arrest.

“However, we have not been given any access to any information that they may or may not have gathered there,” he said.