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Austrian Robin Hood ready for jail over bank loan row

In an ongoing battle with the Austrian Financial Market Authority (FMA) over crowdfunding the shoe entrepeneur Heini Staudinger has said that he will not back down and he is prepared to go to prison.

Staudinger believes that businesses should be independent from bank loans and freed from debt. Since 1999 he has been able to collect 3 million euros from family, friends and customers, providing them with suitable interest rates and reliable repayment. As security, Staudinger has two warehouses worth 4 million euros and a further two in construction.

Staudinger’s reluctance to comply with the FMA has placed him at the head of a movement to legalise crowdfunding and give businesses the option to not use banks. This has led many to refer to him as "the Robin Hood of the twenty-first century".

The FMA argue that such large loans need to be categorised as professional loans and as Staudinger refuses to give in to the FMA he may face a fine of 50,000 euros.

A recent podium discussion involving many businesses and representatives from solar power initiatives, organic production companies and non-governmental organisations which was also broadcast online, has gained Staudinger much support and an online petition for his cause is growing fast.

Staudinger is currently preparing for a meeting with the President of the Chamber of Commerce Christoph Leitl, about which he said: "Of course we are ready to talk. We will discuss the fact that as citizens we have the right to decide what we do with our money."

He continued: "We have a parliamentary citizens’ initiative which should clarify whether or not we are a bank. The FMA are certain that we are a bank and we say that this is absurd because we make shoes and matresses. The money that people borrow from us is strictly for the development of our company, whereas the bank would take our money and turn it into credit in order to make a win."

Staudinger also argued that banks are reluctant to give loans to small innovative companies and that crowdfunding would allow people to invest directly into whichever businesses they choose, without the need of a middleman.

When asked in an interview whether he was scared of the fines imposed by the FMA, Staudinger said: "I’m not scared at all. Our members magazine is called "Don’t fear". I have written this from my heart. I have hope in reason."

On the topic of his possible imprisonment Staudinger joked: "I’m sure it goes without saying that I work so much I can imagine that spending some time there would do me some good."

Staudinger insisted that his battle with the FMA has not been bad for business: "We’ve never had so much support and our shoe sales are better than ever."

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