Pro-tax Austrian heiress gives away $27 million of inheritance

June 19, 2024
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An heiress who has denounced the absence of taxes on wealth and inheritance in Austria has given the bulk of her money, 25 million euros ($27 million), to 77 organizations, including social and climate groups, as well as prominent left-wing ones.

Marlene Engelhorn, 32, has spent years criticizing the birth lottery by which she inherited tens of millions and does not have to give any of it to the state, and calling for change.

In January, she said that a panel picked by a pollster as representative of the Austrian public would decide how to distribute the sum, without any intervention on her part. The list of 77 recipients was announced on Tuesday.

“A large part of my inherited wealth, which elevated me to a position of power simply by virtue of my birth, contradicting every democratic principle, has now been redistributed in accordance with democratic values,” Engelhorn said in a statement.

A spokesman said the 25 million euros was “the overwhelming bulk” of her wealth, though she retains an undisclosed sum.

The panel had examined “above all the question of the effects of our uneven distribution of wealth” and debates on “democracy and participation in it, tax justice and social inequality,” she said.

Engelhorn is a descendant of Friedrich Engelhorn, who founded German chemicals giant BASF in 1865. Her grandmother Gertraud Engelhorn-Vechiatto married his great-grandson. When Engelhorn-Vechiatto died in 2022, Marlene inherited a large sum.

One of the objectives the 50-person panel, aged between 16 and 85, aimed to support was “a fairer distribution of wealth, more transparency and reporting on that issue and better data on very large accumulations of wealth”, one member of the panel, retail employee Elisabeth Klein, said in a statement.

In support of that aim, two of the four donations of more than a million euros went to the Momentum Institute, a left-wing think-tank, and Attac Austria, which opposes neoliberal economic policy and “deregulated financial markets”.

The donations ranged from 40,000 euros — for an initiative to support data-based reporting on climate change — to 1.6 million euros for the Austrian Nature Conservation Federation.

Other issues covered included housing, integration, women’s rights and fighting poverty.

“Now, it is up to the political actors to do justice to what this group representative of the Austrian population has embodied,” Engelhorn said, calling for more debate on these issues.

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