Cops Hunt Honey Trap Agent Who Brought Down Government

Story ByMichael Leidig, Sub EditorJoseph GolderAgencyNewsflash

These are the first pictures of the beautiful Russian-speaking woman who is now the subject of an international probe after she bought down the Austrian government.

Police have released images of the honey trap agent for the first time to boost the international effort to find out who she really is.

The young woman, who spoke fluent Russian, claimed to be Alyona Makarov, the wealthy niece of a Russian oligarch, and she played the part well.

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She told them she was interested in a land deal, and had in-depth knowledge of forestry matters that convinced Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, of the far-right Freedom Party and the party’s former Deputy Leader Johann Gudenus she was genuine.

Gudenus, who was also the vice mayor of Vienna and a fluent Russian speaker, was contacted first by the woman over a property deal and through him she gained access to his more senior colleague.

But Alyona Makarova, the woman she claimed to be, never existed. Her alleged oligarch uncle, Igor Makarov, 57, who is worth 2.1 billion USD (1.64 billion GBP) and one of Russia’s richest men, is an only child so has no nieces or nephews.

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When he found out about the use of his name, he threatened legal action and he is just one of many people who are trying to find the young woman, whose real identity is the subject of much speculation.

It has been claimed that one of the men that set up the sting, an Iranian-born lawyer named Ramin Mirfakhra, had hired her from the red light scene, while others suggested she was an agent for a foreign government or an opposition party.

Only once during the sting were suspicions raised about her cover story, when Strache who described the woman on video as “super hot” was baffled as to why a designer-wearing Russian oligarch’s daughter had such dirty fingernails.

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But she otherwise proved the perfect operative in luring the two men to the holiday island of Ibiza where she met them in a luxury villa filled with secret cameras.

She was apparently there to encourage the Austrian pair to show off, and they did, boasting of their connections and hinting at corrupt government practices in the clip which caused the Austrian government to collapse in May 2019.

Among the subjects discussed was how to gain a stake in the Austrian right-wing tabloid newspaper Kronen Zeitung and offering access to lucrative state-controlled contracts at the same time as discussing the possibility of receiving party funding from the wealthy young woman.

After the government’s collapse, there were new elections, which resulted in the Freedom party being voted out of government.

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Investigators trying to piece the story together found that the lawyer Ramin Mirfakhra had links with the opposition Social Democrats, but he claimed it was an independent project.

The sting involved months of preparation work and is estimated to have cost 600,000 EUR (527,000 GBP) to set up.

The estate agent who was also fake has been identified as an Austrian detective working in Germany known as Julian Hessenthaler who was brought into the project by Dr Ramin Mirfakhrai.

Hessenthaler first met them on 24th March 2017 in the VIP Le Ciel restaurant in Vienna to discuss the sale of the land owned by the Gudenus family to the ‘wealthy Russian woman’.

Both sides agreed to meet again, and it was at one of these meetings that the woman and Hessenthaler suggested the idea of continuing discussions in Ibiza.

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The video of the now infamous incident was later offered for sale for up to 5 million EUR (4.39 million GBP).

However, Hessenthaler’s former boss and later business partner, Sascha Wandl believes any money that could have been made from the sale was simply the icing on the cake, and in reality the operation was more politically motivated. He said: “There was definitely a political and financial background. And I believe there was a contract with a project that was politically motivated.”

Austrian police now want to find the woman’s identity to question her over the scandal.

The investigation is being carried out by the Austrian business and corruption prosecutors (WKStA) as well as the Vienna prosecution service.

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They are investigating whether the corruption claims made against the two politicians are true, and also who was behind the video sting.

Police have carried out 55 house searches, interviewing hundreds of people as 40 separate investigations connected to the matter.

They are now convinced that the young woman is crucial in providing information as to how and why the video was created.

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Michael Leidig

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