Peter Kolba has a lot to do in these days of standstill: he has received thousands of emails, numerous phone calls, and zoom calls. Because Austria’s best-known consumer protection lawyer has plunged into a new case: Ischgl and the Corona chaos.
Kolba knows a lot about big cases. In the almost three decades in which he worked at VKI, the Austrian association for consumer information, the 61-year-old fought with banks after the financial crisis or with VW in the diesel scandal. After a brief interlude in politics, he founded the private association for the protection of consumer interests in 2018. Far beyond Austria’s borders, he now wants to bring together all those who have contracted the Coronavirus on a skiing holiday in Tyrol. Because Kolba suspects that the authorities have failed, he wants to join forces to seek compensation for those affected.
This should be done by class action. “But first of all it’s a fundraising campaign,” says Kolba. So far, 4,500 people affected have contacted him. Only three percent, he calculates, is from Austria; the majority, namely three quarters, come from Germany. Sick people are also from the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Great Britain. “The highlights come from Japan, the United Arab Emirates and many from Israel,” he says.
The evaluation of the questionnaires, which are available in German and English, is still at the very beginning. But it is already clear that an infection chain runs across Europe and beyond from Ischgl and other Tyrolean ski areas. Kolba believes that this could have been prevented, especially since, for example, the authorities in Iceland had declared the region a risk area at the beginning of March after numerous sick ski vacationers returned from Tyrol. There, however, skiing continued until mid-March and celebrated with apres-ski. “It was a commercial consideration,” Kolba believes. “There was massive pressure from the tourism industry. The governing body of the cable cars has a very big influence on politics.”
In this case, politics means above all OVP. The conservative party rules in Tyrol and also under the Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Kolba already filed a criminal complaint in Innsbruck on March 24 for clarification. However, he does not have too much confidence in the public prosecutor’s office because of the “matting of politics, business and authorities”. He, therefore, urges the investigation to be relocated to Vienna, where it will be used by the economic and corruption prosecutor. He has also been involved with Justice Minister Alma Zadić, after all, he knows the Green politician well. “But that doesn’t help either,” says Kolba, “the Greens are extremely cautious that they won’t cause any problems for the OVP.”
Together with Zadić, Kolba moved to the Vienna National Council in 2017 for the Pilz list. But while she continued her career with the Greens, he retired from politics after only seven months. “There’s a lot of talking and little progress,” he says. As a consumer advocate, he is now back in his traditional profession and completely in his element.
In the intended lawsuit, Peter Kolba wants to take responsibility for the Republic of Austria. The compensation, he calculates, could quickly reach millions. But many of those affected are not primarily concerned with money, he says. Admitting mistakes and an apology would be enough for you.