The Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) was established in 1999 by the Council of Europe to monitor States’ compliance with the organisation’s anti-corruption standards.
GRECO’s objective is to improve the capacity of its members to fight corruption by monitoring their compliance with Council of Europe anti-corruption standards through a dynamic process of mutual evaluation and peer pressure. It helps to identify deficiencies in national anti-corruption policies, prompting the necessary legislative, institutional and practical reforms. GRECO also provides a platform for the sharing of best practice in the prevention and detection of corruption.
GRECO has made public today its Fourth Evaluation Round 2nd Interim Compliance Report on Austria, which deals with corruption prevention in respect of members of parliament, judges and prosecutors. This report was adopted by GRECO at its 89th Plenary Meeting (Strasbourg, 29 November – 3 December 2021).
Extracts from this report
In the Compliance Report adopted by GRECO at its 81st Plenary Meeting (7 December 2018) and made public on 17 July 2019, following authorisation by Austria (GrecoRC4(2018)15), it was concluded that only one of the 19 recommendations contained in the Evaluation Report had been dealt with in a satisfactory manner, five recommendations had been partly implemented and 13 had not been implemented.
GRECO concluded that the very low level of compliance with the recommendations was “globally unsatisfactory” in the meaning of Rule 31, paragraph 8.3 of the Rules of Procedure. GRECO therefore decided to apply Rule 32, paragraph 2 (i) concerning members found not to be in compliance with the recommendations contained in the mutual evaluation report.
In the Interim Compliance Report adopted by GRECO at its 85th plenary meeting (25 September 2020) and made public on 1 March 2021, following authorisation by Austria, GRECO concluded that the low level of compliance with the recommendations remained “globally unsatisfactory” in the meaning of Rule 31 revised, paragraph 8.3 of the Rules of Procedure and asked the Head of delegation of Austria to provide a report on the progress in the implementation of the outstanding recommendations at the latest by 30 September 2021. This report was received as requested and served as a basis for the present Second Interim Compliance Report.
In view of the foregoing, GRECO concludes that Austria has now implemented satisfactorily or dealt with in a satisfactory manner three of the nineteen recommendations contained in the Fourth Round Evaluation Report. Of the remaining recommendations, nine have been partly implemented and seven have not been implemented.
More specifically, recommendation i, xiii and xv have been dealt with in a satisfactory manner, recommendations ii, iii, vi, ix, x, xiv, xvii, xviii and xix have been partly implemented and recommendations iv, v, vii, viii, xi, xii and xvi have not been implemented.
As far as judges and prosecutors are concerned, progress has been minimal. That said, online programmes for in-service training of judges and prosecutors have been launched and the attendance levels have been high. Additionally, the Service Act for Judges and Prosecutors is being amended to revise the appointment procedure for candidate-judges to the ordinary courts. The exact scope and status of these amendments however remain to be seen.
In application of paragraph 8.2 of Article 31 of the Rules of Procedure, GRECO asks the head of the Austrian delegation to provide a report on the measures taken to implement the outstanding recommendations (i.e. recommendations ii-xii, xiv, xvi-xviii) by 31 December 2022 at the latest.
Finally, GRECO invites the authorities of Austria to authorise, as soon as possible, the publication of this report, to translate it into the national language and to make the translation public.
Custody case mother seeks a criminal investigation
A CRIMINAL complaint was filed yesterday against individuals involved in the ongoing custody case of Manchester mother Beth Alexander.
Acting as her power of attorney, the former Chief Rabbi of Vienna, Moshe Friedman, is seeking to have the custody case investigated on more than 40 counts by the Office for the Prosecution of White Collar Crime and Corruption in Vienna.
In July, 2011, twins Samuel and Benjamin, now 12, were inexplicably removed from their mothers care following a court order, although at that time she was still allowed limited contact. Ms Alexander was, however, barred last year from seeing or communicating with the twins, following flawed evidence about her, and the claim that the boys wanted no contact with her was accepted by the judge. Following the no contact ruing, Rabbi Friedman spoke to the court-appointed children’s guardian, Stefan Pack.
Rabbi Friedman insists that due process was not followed, with only a short email provided to the court stating that the children wanted no contact with their mother, without any professional assessment as to why this might be the case. Mr Pack allegedly told Rabbi Friedman on the phone that the judge at the centre of the investigation had called him privately and instructed him not to investigate as she wanted to “put an end to the case”.
Other allegations are that the judge dismissed the latest custody application without calling a hearing or appointing an independent psychologist to assess either the children or the other parties involved.
In the ruling she wrote that she had ‘struck a deal with the children that she would inform them of any applications made by the mother and if they did not want to come to court she would accept their decision.
The involvement of a Jewish high court judge with no legal standing in the case is a further basis of the complaint.
Ms Alexander is divorced from her Austrian husband Dr Michael Schlesinger whom she married in 2006.
Dr Schlesinger has also been reported for allegedly forging his ex-wife’s signature. All evidence of the fathers alleged violence was suppressed by the judge. And there are allegations of money laundering against his former brother-in-law.
LONDON — It is every mother’s nightmare. For more than a decade, Beth Alexander has been largely unable to see her two sons as she has fought a complex and seemingly never-ending legal battle to gain custody of the twin boys through the Austrian courts.
Alexander’s story — a whirlwind romance that turned into a bitter tussle over her children, allegations of foul play in Viennese legal circles and a dramatic intervention by Britain’s chief rabbi — has attracted international headlines, while her plight has won her strong support in the UK Jewish community and parliament.
But, as she launches a new campaign to gain access to her children, the Austrian judge overseeing the case has rebuffed Alexander’s latest legal efforts — and gone a step further, barring all contact between mother and children — saying it is not in the 12-year-olds’ interest to see their mother.
Alexander, who grew up in a Jewish family in Manchester in northwest England, met her future husband while still a student at Cambridge University in 2006. Michael Schlesinger, who had recently qualified as a doctor, soon proposed and the couple were married within months. Though Alexander says the plan was to eventually move to England, she believes that Schlesinger never intended to actually make the move from his native Austria, where they had settled.
The marriage, which Alexander calls a “sham,” soon began to fall apart. “He couldn’t cope with being married,” she told The Times of Israel. Even when she became pregnant, Alexander says, her husband showed “no signs of excitement.”
Less than a year after S. and B. were born, Alexander says she was forced to spend a night at a women’s shelter. When she returned home, she alleges, her husband unsuccessfully tried to have her sectioned, claiming she was mentally ill. Schlesinger, who did not respond to repeated requests for comment, has previously denied Alexander’s allegations of abuse.
The couple separated soon after and the children were assigned to live with Alexander, with Schlesinger initially given only supervised access. His attempts to gain custody floundered at first but, just two months after turning them down, the judge executed a dramatic u-turn.
In July 2011, Schlesinger won full and immediate custody, with the court ruling that “the father is better suited to exercise custody and to promote the welfare of the child” and that, despite having “a good bond” with them, “the mother has only a limited capacity to bring up the children.” The court also assessed that Schlesinger was likely to be more cooperative than his wife in ensuring “contact with the family of the other parent.”
There was to be no preparation or transition, nor were social services involved; instead, the police turned up at Alexander’s Vienna home that afternoon and her two-year-old sons were taken away. She is still clearly haunted by the memory.
“It was done in the most brutal, violent way. It was horrific. My lawyer was away on holiday. The consul at the Embassy who was dealing with the case was also away. It was barbaric. They were just wrenched out of their high-chairs,” she recalls. Her parents encouraged her to briefly return to the UK. “I was in such a state. I was hysterical and traumatized.”
Alexander continues: “I was so trusting. I want my story to be a warning to other women. People think it’s very romantic to go and live in another country. They don’t realize the implications if you have a child abroad. You have no rights, you won’t be protected.”
For two months, Alexander was unable to see the children amid legal wrangling over her visitation rights. After that she was initially only allowed to see the children twice a week for a couple of hours on supervised visits. Beth Alexander and her former husband on their wedding day (Courtesy Beth Alexander)
It is, says Alexander, “an open secret” in Vienna that a senior judge with connections to Schlesinger’s family spoke with the judge overseeing the case. That intervention, Alexander believes, altered the whole future direction of the case.
For more than two years, Alexander fought through the courts to both overturn the custody decision and gain greater access to her children. But even small victories proved pyrrhic. A court-ordered psychiatric report was carried out on Alexander — by a psychologist who, it is alleged, lacked the necessary skills in adult psychiatry — which appeared to indicate she had impaired cognitive skills and reduced parenting abilities. However, when she presented the court with two further reports rebutting that false assessment, these were ignored. So, too, was an appeal court ruling that similar psychiatric reports should be conducted on the children and the father.
Alexander says she was not just fighting for her rights as a mother but also out of deep concern about her boys’ welfare. The children, she says, often seemed “disturbed” and “like zombies,” they suffered from stomach problems and were crying all the time, and, she discovered, one of the boys had self-harmed at school (a fact the school allegedly did not report).
Alexander’s bewilderment about the basis for the legal decisions deepened when, in January 2014, the Austrian Supreme Court turned down her application for custody with no explanation beyond the one word “rejected.”
However, she had at least begun to persuade the courts to grant her further, unsupervised access. In 2014, for instance, she was finally allowed to have her sons for overnight visits and the following year she was given permission to take them on holiday.
She recalls a “fantastic” holiday she, her parents and their grandchildren spent in the Alps in the summer of 2016. “The children were so happy, they thrived. They’d never had so much freedom. We did so many fun things.”
But this apparent progress ground to an abrupt halt soon afterward when her husband went back to the courts and Alexander’s access was dramatically scaled back, with supervised visitation again imposed.
“After all those years fighting through the system, it was back to square one,” Alexander says. “I couldn’t take it anymore.”
She labels the supervised visitation that was now on offer a form of “child abuse.” “It’s the most humiliating thing to go through,” Alexander believes. “You have to sit in a center, a woman is there writing notes. I didn’t want my children to see me that way, like I was a criminal.”
Distraught, at her parents’ insistence, she returned to the UK. Alexander, a lecturer at a university in Vienna, decided to retrain as a family lawyer.
“I studied law to empower myself,” she says. “I can’t describe the frustration; I was going from one lawyer to the next and each one couldn’t seem to get me anywhere. I just thought: I am going to become a lawyer, both to help my own case but also to help other parents.”
For five years, Alexander didn’t see her sons. She sent them presents and cards, tried to arrange regular WhatsApp video calls and bought the boys laptops so she could email them (she’s not sure whether her sons received them).
In the UK she was, however, aided by high-profile supporters. In 2014, sympathetic parliamentarians — including Tory MPs Mike Freer and Matthew Offord and Labour MPs Graham Stringer and Ivan Lewis — staged a debate in the House of Commons.
Stringer, in whose Manchester constituency Alexander’s parents lived at the time, told MPs: “I have great respect for the Austrian state… I like Austria, but the decision in Beth Alexander’s case is a blight on the Austrian judicial system and I hope that it will be put right.”
Lewis called the case “one of the worst miscarriages of justice I have ever experienced during my long period as an elected representative.”
“Beth… has been falsely and cruelly labeled mentally ill and an unfit mother, labels both disproved by independent professionals,” he added.
Alexander’s cause has also been taken up by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, whose leaders met with the Austrian ambassador to London to raise their concerns. “I fear that a serious miscarriage has occurred,” Jonathan Arkush, then the board’s vice president, said after the December 2013 meeting.
Alexander has also won the support of Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. Shortly after the Austrian Supreme Court’s abrupt ruling in 2014, he provided her with an open letter expressing his concern about the court’s “unusual decision to deprive a mother of the right to raise her children.”
“More significantly, I am concerned about reports that suggest that the twins’ growth and development are suffering, while the mother is not included in any way in matters relating to her children’s health, welfare and education,” he wrote.
Earlier this year, it was revealed that Mirvis had flown to Vienna in 2018 with Arkush, by then the Board’s president, to intercede on Alexander’s behalf. The men met with the twins and leaders of the Jewish community in Vienna. Schlesinger, however, reportedly refused an invitation to meet with Mirvis and the chief rabbi’s attempt to at least secure Alexander a regular weekly call with her sons ultimately came to nothing.
Alexander is highly critical of the manner in which sections of the Jewish community in the Austrian capital allegedly closed ranks behind her former husband and, she claims, sought to undermine her battle. It is a “misogynistic, patriarchal and tight-knit community,” she claims. “As a foreigner without an understanding of the language or culture, I didn’t stand a chance.”
That charge is rejected by Oskar Deutsch, the president of the IKG, which represents the Jewish community in Vienna. In a letter to Mirvis last month, he wrote: “The ruling over the children’s custody is a legal one and has been made by independent Austrian courts. The Jewish community did not participate in the court case beside the fact many members individually helped her before, during and after the hearings.”
The Austrian government has similarly defended the handling of the case. In response to an email from one of Alexander’s supporters, the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs said that the case was “conducted by independent Austrian courts of law, their final decision being based on objective consideration of both parents’ positions and, above all, the children’s wellbeing.”
Last year, Alexander attempted to utilize a new opportunity provided by Britain’s departure from the European Union to pursue her case through The Hague-based International Child Abduction and Contact Unit. She hoped that her application for regular phones calls and a visit in Vienna every other month would be determined by a new judge, who would be looking at the case independently for the first time. But the case ended up being decided once again by the Viennese judge who has overseen it since the outset. The justice rejected the application and, claiming that the sons did not want to see their mother, said it was not in their best interests for Alexander to be granted access.
Alexander is, however, taking this latest disappointment in stride.
In January, a new campaign was launched and an online event was addressed by supporters including Mirvis, Offord, the editor of the Jewish Telegraph, Paul Harris, and the chief executive of Jewish Women’s Aid, Naomi Dickson.
“All of us who know Beth,” the chief rabbi told participants in the launch, “know her to be a loving, caring and giving person and, most importantly of all, a wonderful and loving mother. The fact that she has been separated from her children and has not been part of their lives for so long has been a most terrible tragedy.”
Alexander says the judge’s decision to order no contact is the reason for the new campaign. “Had she given me even minimal access — a weekly phone call — I probably would have stayed quiet. It was the total injustice of no contact which prompted me to go public again.”
Alexander is also now readying a new legal challenge with a request for sole custody. Her former husband, she claims, based his initial applications on the basis that he would be the more cooperative, tolerant parent who would allow contact and access and effectively co-parent with his ex-wife. The evidence of the last decade, she believes, has raised a serious question mark over that pledge.
My new custody application via Rabbi Moshe Aryeh Friedman was lodged almost 2 months ago. Judge Susanne Gottlicher sits on the file, not allowing any other judge to handle the case nor does she appear to be dealing with it herself. Perhaps she thinks if she ignores it long enough it will just disappear. Meanwhile each day that goes by, the father is severely alienating the twins, causing them what researchers say is nothing less than permanent brain damage. Their Bar Mitzvah is 2 months away now.
With the permission of the honourable Chief Rabbi, I am posting the letter that was sent from the Chief Rabbi’s office directly to Schlesinger in 2019. Of course no weekly calls have taken place since. Not even a personal letter from the Chief Rabbi could shame him or the community.
Dr Michael Schlesinger
17th April 2019
Dear Dr Schlesinger,
It is now more than eight months since I travelled to Vienna in the hope of meeting with you and three months since I last wrote to you, urging you to enable contact between Beth and the children on a weekly basis. When you wrote to me in December, you indicated a willingness to do this. I understand however that since 1st January 2019, you have permitted only five calls in total.
I appreciate that your own relationship with Beth has broken down irrevocably but I am at a loss as to why you will not facilitate regular weekly telephone calls with her for the boys.
As I have previously made clear, despite your suggestions to the contrary, I have done everything in my power to prevent this painful dispOte from re-emerging in the media. I had hoped that doing so would demonstrate the good faith with which I entered into this dialogue and might encourage you to do the right thing.
Although it seems my efforts have been unsuccessful in that regard, I thought I might write to you one more time to plead with you, for the sake of your children, to establish regular weekly telephone contact with their mother.
As I indicated in my previous letter to you, I understand that it can be difficult to maintain an arrangement for a fixed time every week but with some flexibility on both sides, it must surely be possible to provide for weekly telephone contact as a minimum? Such an arrangement can only be to the benefit of the boys – which ultimately is the outcome we are all working towards.
31st May 2013 His Excellency Ambassador Emil Brix Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Austria To the Court of St James
Re: Schlesinger divorce and custody case.
I take the liberty of sending you this letter in my capacity as Executive Secretary of the Conference of European Rabbis, a pan European NGO which congregates all of the continents Chief Rabbis as well as 800 community rabbis across Europe.
I am sure you are aware of the divorce and custody case currently ongoing in the Viennese family court , which involves an Austrian husband, a British wife and two children who are dual citizens of both Austria and the United Kingdom, all of whom are members of the Jewish faith.
Our organization is closely monitoring the development of this specific case due to its international nature coupled with the family’s religious affiliation.
We would be very grateful if you could please clarify what is being done in order to ensure that the case in question is given a satisfactory resolution.
We are under the impression that the case is not progressing as it should and that, as a consequence, the children are being deprived of some of their most basic human rights.
“One of the reasons the Judge cited as grounds to remove the children from Beth’s care, was she Beth was unable to give the children, on the day of their circumcision, a suppository. The fact that both babies’ nappies were covered in blood, they were bandaged and screaming in agony which any mother would find extremely distressing, was irrelevant. “
You can download a PDF version of these letters here.
The head Chabad Shliach in Austria, Rabbi Jacob Biderman has been undeniably involved in the case in support of the father having full custody of the children. In an article in 2012, Rabbi Jacob Biderman told Beth that her husband would be prepared to grant her a get only if she dropped her battle for custody of the children, and was “willing to leave him in peace”.
In 2017, a group of Rabbis met with the pope, and a video went viral showing those Rabbis dancing with the pope afterwards. According to the article, “A Chabad dot org list of “official emissaries” no longer contains the address of Chabad of Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn, whose leader, Rabbi Dovber Pinson, was on the trip.”
In 2021 a Chabad house in Manchester, England was removed from Chabad dot org website after being listed for many years. If anyone wishes to know more details, they should contact the Jewish Telegraph https://www.jewishtelegraph.com/ .
The opposite is also true. Sometimes, there is pressure from local communities to have the incumbent Chabad leadership step down in favour of a replacement board. Here is an example of Central Chabad in Crown Heights stepping in to intervene.
On an informal level Chabad Rabbis from all over the world meet up for their Kinus conference where friendships are cemented, ideas exchanged and favours called in. To suggest that there is no communication between Chabad Houses in different regions is absurd.
In conclusion, it is factually incorrect to say that Chabad Centres around the world are independent. The actions of one Chabad Rabbi will have implications on the Chabad global brand. Chabad can choose to distance themselves from such a Rabbi, as has been demonstrated in other situations, or alternatively, accept that the actions of this Rabbi is representative of what Chabad stands for in practice. If they allow one of their representatives to remain on their Chabad shliach directory, then that is an endorsement of him and everything he has done in his capacity as Chabad shliach.
Lauder Chabad Campus Unfortunately, and unjustly, Jewish institutions in Vienna are being attacked on social media due to a personal divorce dispute. Lauder Chabad Campus and its staff are proud to provide quality education to all interested families of the Jewish community of Vienna. We are entirely impartial and wholly uninvolved in these personal family affairs. These issues are dealt solely by the legal authorities over whom we have no influence. Due to data protection issues and ethical reasons, we cannot discuss individual cases via social media.
Biderman and the Lauder Chabad school claim to be impartial, yet they have done the following:
Covered up the abuse of Sammy and Benjy Schlesinger. Read here
Forwarded private emails to judge Konstanze Thau who is not legally allowed to be involved in the case. Read here.
Lauder Chabad school did not allow Beth to attend the twins’ birthday party at the kindergarten. Read here.
Lauder Chabad have blocked Beth from attending every parents’ evening, concerts, birthday parties or a single event at the school. They have not provided Beth with any school reports so she has no idea what progress, if any, the twins are making or even what they may be learning.
Blatantly told Chief Rabbi Mirvis, and the late Lord Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that Beth was mentally ill despite knowing this was a lie.
Impartial: Dictionary definition: not partial or biased; fair; just
**Postscript for clarification** This appeal decision received TODAY relates to the previous application for CONTACT which was denied by Susanne Gottlicher in Nov 2021.
Rabbi Moshe Aryeh Friedman has since started NEW PROCEEDINGS for the transfer of SOLE CUSTODY. He believes this latest ruling will only strengthen my case; 1) to prove the corruption 2) to show yet further evidence that Sammy and Benji are being held captive and denied ALL contact to any relatives / outside world
This case goes beyond a private custody battle. 2 children have been “legally” kidnapped whilst the Jewish community of Vienna are covering up child abuse.