Austria’s largest corruption process since 1945 is coming to an end. Ex-Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser had embezzled around 10 million euros and has now been sentenced to eight years in prison.
Former Austrian Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser has been sentenced to eight years in prison in a corruption trial. The former FPÖ politician had abused his office and accepted bribes in the millions, the court ruled on Friday in Vienna. The three-year process involved bribes totaling around ten million euros in connection with the sale of tens of thousands of government apartments.
In 2004, as the acting finance minister, Grasser decided to sell 60,000 condominiums owned by the federal government. The sale to a consortium came about through the passing on of insider knowledge – knowledge for which only Grasser could be considered as an informant, according to judge Marion Hohenecker.
The money flowed through an “infrastructure for concealment”
The court is convinced that Grasser, the former FPÖ General Secretary Walter Meischberger and two other defendants received payments totaling 9.6 million euros in return for the information. The bribe was indirectly transferred to three accounts in Liechtenstein. “Those who conduct their business honestly do not need any accounts in Liechtenstein,” said the judge. The testimony of three witnesses proved that a real “infrastructure for concealment” was created.
Judge Marion Hohenecker: She announced the verdict against Grasser. (Source: Roland Schlager / dpa)
The explanations that the defendants had been able to produce about the cash flows could not convince the jury’s senate. Grasser said he had received the money from his mother-in-law. This wanted to test his investment talent. To make matters worse, one of the other main defendants surprisingly made a partial confession and incriminated the co-defendants.
At the beginning of the process, Grasser presented himself as an economically ruined man. No work, no house, no car, he announced three years ago. However, he seemed at least secured by his family circumstances. The ex-minister who was married to the jeweler heiress Fiona Swarovski was regularly present in Austria’s gossip press.
Trial against Grasser: It was the largest corruption trial in the country since 1945. (Source: Helmut Fohringer Apa-Pool / dpa)
Austria’s largest corruption process since 1945
The procedure is considered to be the largest corruption process in Austria since the Second World War. The prosecutor’s office had been investigating for around seven years. In the closing argument, she spoke of a “crime of unbelievable scope”. The ex-politician and his friends managed to make money in their own pockets. He also cashed in “to the disadvantage of all of us, to the disadvantage of the taxpayers”. In addition to the ex-finance minister, 14 other suspects were charged. The application contained 825 pages. The now 48-year-old Grasser was a confidante of the late right-wing populist Jörg Haider.
Meischberger, who admitted to passing on insider knowledge in the process, was sentenced to a prison term of seven years, as the Austrian news agency APA reported. Accordingly, all judgments are not yet final. Grasser’s lawyer spoke of a “blatant misjudgment” and announced an appeal. Should this not succeed, the case could reach even greater dimensions. The bidder who lost the federal apartments at the time sees himself confirmed by the judgment and had previously filed a billions lawsuit for damages.