Austrian Kidnap Victim Demands Compensation

The kidnapping case of Natascha Kampusch is back in the headlines, 18 months after the Austrian girl's dramatic escape from an eight-year confinement.

Revelations that Kampusch could have been freed after a few weeks if only police had followed early leads have deeply shaken the Austrian government.

Herwig Haidinger, the former head of the Austrian Federal Criminal Office, has accused the Interior Ministry in Vienna of covering up mistakes that could have spared Kampusch the eight-year ordeal.

Haidinger has caused quite a stir in Austria with his claim that as early as April 1998, only eight weeks after Kampusch disappeared on her way to school, the police had evidence pointing to Wolfgang Priklopil, the man who was later found to have abducted the girl.

According to Haidinger, a police officer had passed on information about the kidnapper's white van, which had been described by witnesses early on.

The police officer had also reported to his bosses that Prikopil, the kidnapper, was "a loner, who has extreme difficulties in communicating and socializing with the community around him and furthermore, that the man had an attraction for children."

The report even included the kidnapper's exact street address in the town of Strasshof near Vienna, where Natascha was forced to live in a small, windowless room – but officials apparently ignored the tip.

Kampusch, now 20, said in an interview with Austrian TV ORF that she was enraged and horrified by Mr. Heidinger's disclosures and that she had lost faith in the authorities.

She allowed ABC News a preview of her own reaction to the scandal, which she will publish on her Web site www.natascha-kampusch.at in the next couple of days.

"I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach, when I found out that they had tips and nothing had been done to follow up. I've lost quite a few years out of my life, important years, when I could have been free! I took it for granted that that police would be looking for me, using search dogs and following any leads after I had been kidnapped. I took it for granted they would come and find me. The people responsible must be taken to account."

The revelations, and the charge that the Austrian Interior Ministry has tried to cover up the kidnap fiasco, have delivered a potentially fatal blow to the current Austrian coalition government and a parliamentary inquiry has been demanded that could lead to disciplinary charges against senior officials.

Natascha's media advisor, Wolfgang Brunner, told ABC News that she's asked her lawyer to look into the matter for her. He quoted her as saying, "If one makes a mistake, one should try and fix it and learn from it. This is not about money; it's a matter of justice being done."

Her lawyer, Gerald Ganzger, told reporters in Vienna, "We are discussing a sort of arrangement with the government." He said he seems to be on track to getting financial compensation for Natascha.

"This is a girl who's been kept imprisoned for more than eight years," Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, whose government has come under pressure for trying to cover up the mistakes made in the Kampusch case, told reporters in Vienna. "I think the least the state can do is make a reasonable gesture."

After Kampusch escaped in August 2006, Priklopil killed himself by leaping in front of a train hours later.

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