Austria's Ex-Vice Chancellor Strache Found Guilty of Corruption

PeoplePoliticians ♦ Published: August 27, 2021; 16:46 ♦ (Vindobona)

Former vice chancellor and the ex-head of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) Heinz-Christian Strache has been sentenced to 15 months' conditional imprisonment for bribery at Vienna's regional court. The co-defendant and owner of the private clinic in Vienna-Währing, Walter Grubmüller, was sentenced to twelve months for bribery, also on probation.

Austria's ex-vice chancellor Strache sentenced to 15 months probation for bribery by Vienna Criminal Court. / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons / Bwag, CC BY-SA 4.0

Walter GrubmüllerStrache was given a 15-month suspended prison sentence in a corruption case related to the Ibiza affair, Judge Claudia Moravec-Loidolt announced. The sentences are not final.

The proceedings had been about a suspected law purchase in connection with the private clinic Währing. The former party leader of the right-wing populist Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) is alleged to have influenced a law in favor of the private clinic out of economic interests. The politician is said to have received party donations and vacations in return.

The owner of the clinic, Walter Grubmüller, who is a friend of Strache, was sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment on probation for bribery. The trial centered on Grubmüller's efforts to use his private clinic to gain access to the state's Private Hospital Financing Fund (PRIKRAF - Privatkrankenanstalten-Finanzierungsfonds). Inclusion in the fund makes it easier to charge for medical services.

Grubmüller donated a total of 12,000 euros to the FPÖ. He also invited Strache to the island of Corfu.

The clinic finally gained access to the fund in 2018 after Strache became vice chancellor.

According to Austrian broadcaster ORF, the judge said that the chronology of events leaves no doubt about the facts of corruption and clearly proves that the main accusation of the Economic and Corruption Prosecutor's Office of Austria (WKStA) is correct.

It is implausible that the politician does not want to have known anything about the donations. Strache had previously denied any wrongdoing. His defense lawyer had called for an acquittal, as had Grubmüller's defense lawyer.

The Ibiza affair led to the breakup of the governing coalition of the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) and the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) in May 2019. The affair was triggered by the publication of a video showing Heinz-Christian Strache, until then vice chancellor in the Kurz 1 government and federal party chairman of the FPÖ, and Johann Gudenus, until then a member of the National Council and managing chairman of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) club.

A few months before the 2017 National Council election, footage was secretly shot, documenting a meeting between the two politicians and an alleged niece of a Russian oligarch in a villa on the island of Ibiza. In it, both show their willingness to circumvent party financing laws and covertly take control of non-party media.

Reactions to Strache ruling

The political opposition sees itself vindicated by the verdict and the Ibiza Committee, saying that it was possible to buy laws under the "Kurz 1 government".

The Greens: Strache verdict confirmed: A strong, independent judiciary protects against corruption

Today's verdict against Strache makes it unequivocally clear that "politics is not there for the enrichment of a few and their wealthy friends, but to prevent anyone from buying posts, influence and laws," says Nina Tomaselli, parliamentary group leader of the Greens in the Ibiza Investigation Committee, after the announcement of non-legal verdict against the former vice chancellor for bribery.

A little more than two years ago, the country was in the midst of a veritable crisis of state, which was triggered by the publication of the so-called Ibiza video. As a result of Strache's statements, the whole of Austria had asked itself: Can rich people buy laws?

The events surrounding the Private Hospital Financing Fund have accompanied the Ibiza investigation committee from the beginning. "The Private Hospital Financing Fund is about a law that brings no benefit to the Austrian population, but benefited donors of the Turquoise-Blue government parties," says Tomaselli, who points to other machinations under Turquoise-Blue.

For the first time, an independent court has dealt with the conditions in the Turquoise-Blue government in the first instance. "Today's - not legally binding - verdict against Strache and his friend Grubmüller is another important stage in the self-cleansing process after Ibiza," Tomaselli is certain. He says this is possible because of a strong, independent judiciary. "A functioning rule of law is a shield against corruption. The Greens with Alma Zadic as Minister of Justice will do everything to keep it that way," Tomaselli holds.

Social Democratic Party (SPÖ): "Verdict confirmed: Under turquoise-blue one could buy laws".

The leader of the parliamentary group in the Ibiza Investigation Committee comments on today's first-instance verdict against ex-vice chancellor Strache as follows: "The verdict confirms: Under Turquoise-Blue you could buy laws." Krainer thus also sees himself confirmed in the findings of the Ibiza Investigative Committee, which in sum drew a grim picture of a venal government that was always willing to act in the interests of major sponsors.

From Strasser to Grasser to Strache. "When the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) and the Freedom Party (FPÖ) govern with each other, there are always and repeatedly only two stations: The government bench and the dock," recalls parliamentary group leader Krainer and expects that today's verdict against Strache will also cast its shadow on other upcoming trials against Löger and Blümel.

Anti-corruption petition (Antikorruptionsbegehren): Strache verdict "only a start"

The - not legally binding - conviction of former Vice Chancellor and ex-FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache is "a landmark decision", commented Martin Kreutner on behalf of the Rechtsstaat & Anti-Korruptionsvolksbegehren on today's outcome of the Prikraf trial.

"Today is a good day in the fight against political corruption in Austria. Bribery and venality are a poison for every community, because they undermine the trust of the population in politics, the administration and the rule of law," said Kreutner. In this respect, he said, it is "gratifying that some of this trust has been restored today."

Kreutner pointed out that it was not least thanks to the Ibiza Investigation Committee and the Economic and Corruption Prosecution Office (WKStA) that the "systematic abuse of power" revealed after Ibiza during the Turquoise-Blue government period now also has its first criminal consequences. "However, the legal processing has only begun. As the rule of law & anti-corruption people's initiative, we will do our part to ensure that this reappraisal is carried out with full consistency and that any remaining legal gaps in the criminal law on corruption are closed. But also that decency and integrity in politics get a higher priority."

The fact that Strache was not yet vice chancellor at the time of the donation payments had been one of the biggest factors of uncertainty for a conviction in view of the ultimately overwhelming burden of proof.

In addition Kreutner: "With a modern and comprehensive anti-corruption law, as our petition for a referendum demands, the legal situation would have been even clearer." Kreutner therefore reiterated the demand of the "Rechtsstaat & Anti-Korruptionsvolksbegehrens" that bribery and corruptibility should be explicitly anchored as an offense in the criminal law on corruption not only for office holders, but also for candidates for political office.

All those named are presumed innocent - Für alle Genannten gilt die Unschuldsvermutung.


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