Austria far-right ex-vice chancellor acquitted of graft

AFP
AFP - [email protected] • 10 Jan, 2023 Updated Tue 10 Jan 2023 14:55 CEST
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Austria's former Vice-Chancellor and disgraced former leader of Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) Heinz-Christian Strache gives his private statement in Vienna, Austria. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

A Vienna court on Tuesday acquitted former vice chancellor and far right leader Heinz-Christian Strache of corruption in a retrial that overturned Strache's earlier conviction.

It is the second acquittal in cases stemming from the Ibizagate scandal, which eventually led to conservative Sebastian Kurz stepping down as chancellor in 2021.

Strache was "found not guilty" of favouritism toward a private hospital in exchange for hidden donations to his far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), Christina Salzborn, a spokeswoman for the Vienna criminal court, told AFP.

The disgraced 53-year-old politician had received a 15-month suspended prison sentence in August 2021 for accepting donations totalling €12,000 ($13,000) from the owner of the private clinic in Vienna.

The donations were in exchange for Strache initiating changes to the law that enabled such clinics to receive money from the public health insurance fund.

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

But the 2021 verdict was overturned a year later and a retrial ordered because evidence in Strache's favour had not been taken into account.

During the second trial, the judge ruled that the prosecutors had not provided enough evidence to qualify the offence.

The private clinic owner, Walter Grubmueller, who had received a 12 month suspended prison sentence in the earlier trial, was also acquitted on Tuesday.

It remained unclear whether the prosecutors would appeal against the acquittals.

Last year, Strache was also acquitted in another corruption trial involving state-owned Asfinag, which manages the Alpine nation's motorways.

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: The Kurz corruption scandal exposes Austria’s press freedom problems

The Ibizagate scandal brought down the coalition between the FPOe and Kurz's centre-right People's Party (OeVP) in 2019. The scandal broke when video footage emerged of Strache promising public contracts to a woman posing as a Russian oligarch's niece in exchange for election campaign support.

The video, which was secretly filmed on the Spanish resort island of Ibiza, led to a sprawling investigation by anti-corruption prosecutors, who turned up several other allegations of wrongdoing against Strache and other prominent politicians.

Kurz, 36, resigned in 2021 although his OeVP remains in power, currently governing with the Greens.

READ ALSO: Why is support for Austria’s far-right FPÖ rising?

The FPOe slumped in approval ratings following the Ibiza scandal but the party has recently managed to regain support.

It is now polling neck-and-neck with the Social Democrats as the country's most popular party, amid dissatisfaction with the current government.

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AFP 2023/01/10 14:55

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