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Austrian restitution case 'flawed'

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Austrian restitution case 'flawed'
Vienna's High Court. Photo: APA
14:30 CET+01:00
The lawyer for a Viennese Jewish author found guilty of defrauding the government over property confiscated by the Nazis has requested that the case be reheard.

Robert Amsterdam of the London-based law firm Amsterdam & Partners has written an open letter requesting "an extraordinary reopening of the case, concerning both the verdict and the penalty" against his client Stephan Templ.

In a controversial court decision Templ was sentenced in April to three years in jail for cheating Austria out of half the value of a sanatorium confiscated by the Nazis from one of Templ’s relatives.

In May, the Austrian High Court upheld the ruling but reduced Templ’s sentence to one year.

The court found that Templ had defrauded Austria by failing in his 2006 restitution application to mention his mother’s estranged sister, who would have been entitled to half the €1.1 million ($1.4 million) his mother received when she sold the property.

Templ rejected the allegation, but when he asked government officials where he should return the money, senior state lawyer Martin Windisch wrote that the government “makes no claims” against Templ.

Amsterdam told The Local that this statement essentially voids the ruling and that the case should be declared a mistrial. "If you look at the judgement it has no basis in law - this is a case which cries out for justice," he said.

He added that it would be an opportune moment for Austria to reconsider the case. 

In his 22-page letter addressed to Austrian Procurator General Werner Pleischl, Amsterdam argues that the case against Templ is fundamentally flawed.

"How the Republic can lay claim to property that is acknowledged to have once been stolen and has been then given back to the heirs of the rightful owners is a fundamental error in the entire logic of the prosecution of Mr Templ," he wrote.

Many in Austria and abroad saw the verdict against Templ as a sign that Austrian society has not fully come to terms with its past.

Templ, author of the 2001 book Our Vienna: Aryanization, Austrian-Style, is a vocal critic of Austria’s Holocaust-era conduct. In the book, he identified individual families that moved into Jewish homes in the 1930s after their lawful owners had been deported.

Critics of the original ruling noted that Austria never legally owned the property and therefore cannot be regarded as a victim of Templ’s actions, as prosecutors claimed. Others point out that Austria’s laws do not require restitution claimants to list other heirs.

“This case should have been a civil matter between the Templs and the sister,” Stuart Eizenstat, a former US deputy secretary of the Treasury who helped set up Austria’s restitution system told Jewish news service JTA.

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