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Austria ex-vice-chancellor’s corruption trial adjourned

A corruption trial against Austria's former vice-chancellor and ex-leader of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) was adjourned Friday until late August, after prosecutors presented new details relating to the charges.

Austria ex-vice-chancellor's corruption trial adjourned
Austria's former Vice-Chancellor, former chairman of the far-right Freedom Party Heinz-Christian Strache. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

The trial of Heinz-Christian Strache, 52, opened on Tuesday and has its roots in the so-called “Ibiza-gate” scandal which forced his resignation in May 2019 and brought down the coalition government between the FPOe and the centre-right People’s Party (OeVP) of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

The scandal broke when video footage emerged of Strache promising public contracts to a woman posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch in exchange for election campaign support for the FPOe.

‘Ibizagate’: What you need to know about the Austrian political corruption scandal

The video prompted a sprawling investigation by anti-corruption prosecutors which uncovered several other allegations of wrongdoing against Strache and other prominent politicians.

The current trial focuses on charges that Strache helped change the law to benefit an FPOe party donor.

The final hearings in the trial, and the verdict, were initially expected on Friday but the trial was adjourned and “the next hearings will be on August 23 and 27,” Christina Salzborn, vice-president of the relevant court, confirmed to AFP in an email.

Strache stands accused of helping to change the law for the benefit of his co-accused Walter Grubmueller, a long-standing friend who owned a private health clinic and donated 10,000 euros ($11,860) to the FPOe.

According to an SMS exchange uncovered by prosecutors and leaked to Austrian media, Strache asked Grubmueller which amendments to legislation would be needed in order for the clinic “to finally be treated in a fair manner”.

During Strache’s time in government, the law was amended to enable Grubmueller’s clinic to receive money from the public health insurance fund.

On Friday judge Claudia Moravec-Loidolt accepted a request from prosecutors to present fresh evidence relating to a separate donation from Grubmueller to the FPOe of 2,000 euros. Witnesses relating to the new allegation — including former FPOe MPs — will be questioned at the hearings in August, Salzborn said.

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POLITICS

Romania recalls Austria envoy after Schengen veto

Romania on Friday recalled its ambassador to Austria, a day after Vienna sparked anger by vetoing Bucharest's bid to join the Schengen zone free of border checks.

Romania recalls Austria envoy after Schengen veto

The Eastern European country with a population of 19 million joined the European Union in 2007 and had high hopes of integration into the vast zone of free movement after waiting for more than 10 years.

On Friday, Romania’s foreign ministry said diplomat Emil Hurezeanu “has been recalled [to Bucharest] for consultations”. It was a “political gesture” indicating “a decision to decrease the current level of relations” with Austria, the ministry said.

READ ALSO: ‘A stupid prank’?: Why has Austria vetoed enlargement of Schengen area?

Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca had expressed “deep disappointment” over Austria’s decision to block the country’s decade-plus long bid.

Romanian foreign minister Bogdan Aurescu then summoned Austria’s ambassador to protest what he called “an unjustified and unfriendly attitude” which would have “consequences on bilateral relations”.

Austria thwarted the hopes of both Bucharest and Sofia, justifying the vetoes over an influx of asylum seekers that it said could grow if the Schengen zone expanded.

Bucharest said Vienna’s stance was based on “incorrect” figures, since migratory flows “do not pass through Romania”.

Meanwhile, calls to boycott Austrian companies have grown louder, with Romania’s tourism ministry saying skiing holidays should be taken in  destinations such as France, rather than Austria.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What happens if you overstay your 90-day limit in Austria?

A demonstration is also planned in the Romanian capital.

As a leading economic trading partner, Austria represents “the second largest foreign investor” in Romania, the foreign ministry said.

A large amount of Romanian citizens and businesses have Austrian bank accounts. Austrian oil and gas group OMV as well as HS Timber also have a big presence in Romania.

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