The 32-year-old man, named in Austrian media only as Horst W., said he was astonished to receive a letter from a court in the state of Salzburg in January last year, informing him that he owed child support of at least €200 a month to an Austrian woman and her then five-year-old son - who he was supposed to have fathered. He was told the payments were due until 2020.
"I was stunned," Horst, from Leverkusen, said. He had never met the woman from Kuchl in Salzburg before, and realised that he must be the victim of identity theft. In 2011 he had received a call from the police telling him that an identity card he had lost in 2007 was being used in Austria.
Horst said that a long battle with Austrian bureaucrats followed. "It was all very hectic. I had to find a lawyer as soon as possible - and at first nobody wanted to take the case on,” he told Austria’s Kurier newspaper.
On June 15th last year he had to appear in court in Hallein. "The court quickly established that I couldn’t be the boy’s father, because I never had sex with the woman - something she testified to."
However, the Austrian youth welfare authority refused to believe the court’s verdict and continued to pursue Horst for the child support payments. “They had found a scapegoat and they insisted I pay", he said. It was only when he got in touch with an Austrian television series which was investigating controversial court cases that the youth welfare authority backed down.
Hallein district commissioner Helmut Fürst said that he only found out about the case when he was contacted by journalists from Austrian broadcaster ORF. “The next day I told the youth welfare office to withdraw their demands,” he said, conceding that officials had gone totally overboard but that they had only been “prioritising the child's welfare”.
In mid-December Austria’s supreme court ruled that Horst was not the father and he was finally off the hook. However, he still owes his lawyer more than €4,000, which he says is “a hell of a lot of money” considering he doesn’t earn much from his job as a chef in a canteen and he has his own family and young son to support.
He has taken out a loan to cover his lawyer’s fees and now wants to sue Hallein’s youth welfare office for damages. "We’re still considering what to do, but a lawsuit looks likely,” his lawyer Karl-Heinz Pühl said.
Horst still hasn’t received an apology from the Austrian officials but says that he feels sorry for the Austrian single mother and her son. "She apologized to me for what had happened. I thought she seemed really nice. She seemed quite sad - she had fallen in love with a man she never really knew."
Meanwhile police in Austria are still looking for the fraudster and real father of the boy and say that there have been reports matching his description in Upper Austria, Styria and Salzburg.
"We’re certain that he will soon be found,” police spokeswoman Valerie Hillebrand said.