Trial of Austrian ex-chancellor Kurz wraps up

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Trial of Austrian ex-chancellor Kurz wraps up
Austria's former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz arrives in the courtroom for a session of his trial at the Regional Criminal Court of Vienna, Austria, on February 23, 2024, where he expects his verdict following a months-long trial for alleged false testimony.(Photo by Joe Klamar / AFP)

An Austrian court on Friday started hearing statements from a Russian businessman, the final witness in the trial for alleged false testimony of former chancellor Sebastian Kurz, once hailed as a "wunderkind" of Europe's conservatives.


The judge is expected to rule later Friday on the charge of alleged false testimony following the months-long trial.

Kurz has insisted he is innocent of having misled an inquiry probing wide-ranging corruption scandals that brought down his first government with the far-right in 2019.

But the trial and other ongoing corruption investigations have damaged the reputation of the charismatic hardliner, who left politics in 2021.

On Friday, the court is due to hear testimony from one more defence witness -- a Russian businessman -- and a rebuttal from the prosecution's key witness before the closing statements.

Judge Michael Radasztics is expected to rule on the case later Friday. If convicted, Kurz could face up to three years in jail.

Kurz 'system'

During the 11-day trial that has spread out since October, the court has heard testimony from at least eight witnesses.

Kurz, who headed the ruling conservative People's Party (OeVP) until 2021, is accused of downplaying his influence in appointing the head of a state-owned company.

Throughout the trial, Kurz, 37, has portrayed himself as the victim of a selective prosecution and an opposition out to "destroy him".

BACKGROUND: Austrian ex-chancellor Sebastian Kurz to go on trial for false testimony

Kurz insisted that while he had been informed about the appointment of the official, Thomas Schmid, he had not decided. He dismissed prosecutors' suggestions that he had sought to control everything.

Schmid, on the other hand, testified that Kurz built up a "system" where he held the reins and could veto any appointment of personnel in critical companies.

Among the other witnesses who have already testified were two former finance ministers who backed Kurz and another Russian businessman.


The Russian spoke via video conference from the Austrian embassy in Moscow to discredit Schmid -- though he raised eyebrows when he said Kurz's lawyer had helped draft his statement.

"There has been some damage in terms of how he (Kurz) acted in this trial," political analyst Thomas Hofer summed up.

"I think you could see how a very PR-focused politician could not switch gears for the court... He was so consumed by his public image," he told AFP.

No imminent return 

If Kurz is acquitted, any damage may fade, Hofer added. He nevertheless ruled out any imminent return of Kurz, who in 2017, at the age of 31, became the world's youngest democratically elected head of government.

"This image of the star that's still there -- and if he comes back (to lead the OeVP), everything will be good -- I think it's just a wrong assessment of the situation," Hofer told AFP.

READ ALSO: From politics to cinema - Austria's ex-chancellor returns to limelight

Separately, prosecutors are still investigating Kurz on suspicion of having embezzled public money to fund polls skewed to boost his image and to pay for favourable coverage to help his political rise.

But they have so far failed to obtain any convictions since a video emerged in 2019 showing Kurz's then-vice chancellor of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) offering public contracts to a purported Russian investor for campaign help.


The FPOe slumped in popularity just after the scandal but, under new leadership, has bounced back to the top of the polls. Currently, it is polling at about 30 percent ahead of elections expected in September.

Kurz is now involved with numerous private international enterprises. In 2022, he launched a cybersecurity company with the former head of Israel's NSO Group, which makes the controversial Pegasus spyware.

It is the first time in more than 30 years that a former chancellor has stood trial.

In the last case, Fred Sinowatz of the Social Democrats was found guilty, also for giving false testimony, and received a fine.


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