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Corruption charges against ex-Finance Minister confirmed

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Corruption charges against ex-Finance Minister confirmed
A fresh-faced Karl-Heinz Grasser when he entered office over a decade ago. Photo: BIG SHOT / Christian Jungwirth
10:22 CEST+02:00
Austria's Justice Ministry is expected to announce corruption charges against the country's former Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser later today following a seven year investigation.

Grasser, along with a number of other suspects, is to be charged in relation to the privatisation of the state housing company Buwog in 2004 and the renting of Finance Ministry office space in Linz's Terminal Tower.

In the case of the Buwog affair, is alleged that he embezzled funds in the course of privatizing the 60,000 state-owned flats.

During the sale, real estate company Immofinanz received a tip that allowed them to submit a bid for the property that was marginally above their competitor's offer.

It is claimed that the tip was passed from Grasser to his friend and former politician Walter Meischberger and lobbyist Peter Hochegger, who then passed it on to the real estate company.

Following the sale of the flats for about €961 million - Austria's biggest ever privatisation - around €9.6 million was then paid in “commission” to Meischberger and Hochegger.

The money was transferred to an account in Cyprus before ending up in Liechtenstein and part of it is suspected to having been transferred to Grasser.

Grasser and Meischberger deny, however, that the tip-off information came from Grasser who was the then Finance Minister.

Grasser's lawyer Manfred Ainedter confirmed yesterday evening the charges are being made against the former Finance Minister.

Ainedter said they would wait until full details have been announced by the Justice Ministry before responding in full.

The court case concerning the corruption charges is expected to begin in 2017, due in part to the complexity of the evidence and material relating to the case.

If found guilty, Grasser could face a decade behind bars as well as a fine into the tens of millions.

He was first made Finance Minister in 2000, nominated by the Freedom Party when they led a government coalition with the conservative People's Party (ÖVP).

At the time he was the youngest person ever to take up the post of Finance Minister in Austria.

A few years later the coalition broke up but was reformed under the lead ÖVP, who nominated Grasser again to become Finance Minister.

He was brought uncomfortably into the spotlight in 2011, however, after Austrian district attorneys began investigating possible kickback schemes and back room deals.

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