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Austrian arms lobbyist convicted of money laundering

A Vienna court on Monday found an Austrian arms lobbyist guilty of money laundering related to European defence giant EADS, now renamed Airbus.

Austrian arms lobbyist convicted of money laundering
Count Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly (L) gets some media interest as he waits at the courtroom for his trial on December 12, 2012 in Vienna. (Photo by DIETER NAGL / AFP)

Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly received a six-month suspended prison sentence and was ordered to pay 50,000 euros ($50,600), deemed to have been “ill-gotten gains”, a spokesman of the Vienna regional court told AFP.

Both sides can still appeal the verdict. Mensdorff-Pouilly has denied the charge.

According to the indictment, Mensdorff-Pouilly is said to have moved assets for a former division manager of Eurofighter manufacturer EADS, which became the Airbus Group in 2014.

This manager allegedly transferred millions of euros from 2005 by means of fake contracts mostly to a slush fund.

In a separate case, Mensdorff-Pouilly was acquitted of money laundering in 2013 but given a two-month suspended prison sentence for the lesser crime of falsifying evidence.

In that case, Mensdorff-Pouilly, a colourful count, had been accused of greasing the palms to win arms contracts as British defence giant BAE Systems’ alleged central and eastern Europe fixer.

The prosecution’s case was weakened by the fact that BAE executives were not obliged to testify after the firm’s controversial $450-million settlement with US and British authorities to settle this and other cases in 2010.

The Eurofighter Typhoon is a major prestige product for the European defence industry, with hundreds of aircraft delivered to Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain, as well as to Austria and Saudi Arabia.

The four founding nations in the consortium — Germany, Spain, Britain and Italy — all use the planes in their own air forces. Other contracts have been signed with Oman and Kuwait.

In 2020, under a settlement struck by Airbus with French, British and American courts, the company agreed to pay 3.6 billion euros in fines to settle corruption probes into some of its aircraft sales.

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CRIME

EXPLAINED: What happened at the Linz Halloween riots?

On Halloween night, dozens of people, most minors, rioted in the Upper Austrian capital. Two days after the event, Austria is still trying to understand what happened and what to do now.

EXPLAINED: What happened at the Linz Halloween riots?

On the evening of Halloween, dozens of people rioted in Linz. Images on social media appear to show that most of them look young, and the data released by the police confirmed that. 

Among the 129 suspects identified, most (73) are younger than 18, while 26 are considered to be “young adults”, so younger than 21.

What the authorities have not been able to pinpoint, though, is what led to the rioting, which ended with damaged property, injured police officers, and almost 130 people taken into custody.

What exactly happened?

On Halloween evening, October 31st, around 200 took downtown Linz streets on a rampage, damaging storefront windows and attacking unrelated groups of people with stones and even firecrackers. 

READ ALSO: Have your say: Where are the best and worst places to live in Vienna?

As a result, some 170 police officers were called out to the scene to try to drive the rioters away, Austrian media reported. The five-hour operation resulted in nine arrests and two police officers were injured. On Tuesday evening, riots broke out again, but on a much smaller scale and the people left once police arrived.

One thing that draws attention to the episode – other than the unexpected violence – is that many of the people involved were not Austrian citizens. In a country where immigrations is always a contentious issue, this issue was bound to make the headlines.

According to the police, one in three rioters were Austrian citizens. Among the 129 identified suspects, 35 are persons entitled to asylum and five are asylum seekers. In terms of nationality, it is a heterogeneous group, according to broadcaster ORF

Twelve EU citizens, 28 Syrians, and 14 Afghans. Among the Austrians, the police said 34 had a “migration background” – the report didn’t clarify precisely what that meant.

Serbs, Kosovars, North Macedonians, Romanians, Thais and Bosnians were also in the group.

READ ALSO: Tents for asylum seekers stir debate in Austria

However, authorities are still investigating the incident, and there is no final report on the age or nationality of all involved.

What was the role of social media? 

The other point that ensured the riots would stay in the headlines for a while was how they came to happen. 

According to the authorities, the initial evaluation is that the event was unorganised and the rioters had no clear structure. Instead, it was more likely “a loose gathering of young people who had joined forces via social media”, Der Standard reported.

The police are now looking into several videos on TikTok, where young people announced the rioting by saying they wanted to turn Linz “into Athena”. Some videos had more than 19,000 likes and comments discussing how the night would be of “war”.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Who are the asylum seekers trying to settle in Austria?

The Athena comment references a film available on the streaming platform Netflix. The plot centres on the chaos erupting in a French neighbourhood known as Athena after the brutal killing of a child of Algerian origin. Massive riots and confrontations between the police and the population are shown.

What is going to happen now?

The police are still piecing together everything that happened two days after the riots. On social media, there are calls for further rioting (on New Year’s Eve), and xenophobic and racist comments as well, with many blaming asylum seekers and migrants for the events. 

“There’s a lot of tension in the air,” Erich Wahl of the Youth and Leisure Association (VJF), which is in charge of youth work in Linz, told Der Standard on what could have motivated the riots. 

READ ALSO: What measures against foreigners is Austria’s far-right trying to take?

Wahl mentioned that the Covid-19 crisis, inflation, and even the war in Ukraine could add to “built-up anger”, especially in young kids. Added to that, immigrants are often in a more difficult situation. 

For example, young people with Afghan, Syrian and Iraqi citizenship have a 21.9 percent unemployment rate, almost four times higher than for Austrians, the daily added.

Interior Minister Gerhard Karner (ÖVP) said the government wants to use “the full force of the law”.

Karner focused on the third-country citizens, saying their permits would be “examined” and that removal from the country could occur in serious criminal offences. 

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: Could Austria ever change the rules to allow dual citizenship?

He added that he wanted deportations to happen also to Syria and Afghanistan, where most of the suspects were from, but mentioned that this would be in the “long-term”, as deportations to war states are not allowed under international law.

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