Former Austrian MEP found guilty of corruption.
Ernst Strasser, a former Austrian interior minister and leader of Austria's centre-right MEPs in 2009-11, has been found guilty of corruption and sentenced to four years in prison by a court in Vienna.
The court found Strasser guilty of having offered to influence European Union legislation in exchange for money in conversations with British journalists posing as lobbyists. No money changed hands, but Strasser, a senior member of the centre-right Austrian People's Party (ÖVP), was forced to resign in 2011 when the affair came to light. The court said that in view of the seriousness of Strasser's crime, a suspended sentence was out of the question. “There is no doubt that Strasser demanded monetary compensation in exchange for influencing the legislative procedure,” Georg Olschak, the presiding judge, said on Monday (14 January).
Olschak said that few people in Austria's second republic had done as much damage to the credibility of politics as Strasser. “For that reason, it was necessary to impose a sentence that will have a deterrent effect on possible copycats – and there must be quite a few of those,” Olschak said.
Strasser rejects the charges, and his attorney announced that he would appeal against the ruling. Strasser told the court that he suspected the supposed lobbyists were in fact intelligence operatives and that he went along with their proposals in order to collect evidence against them. The court found no evidence to support Strasser's version of events.
Strasser's defence was “among the most adventurous I've seen in my 20-year career”, Olschak said.
Both the ÖVP, junior partner in Austria's ruling ‘grand coalition', and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPÖ) of Chancellor Werner Faymann have been embroiled in corruption scandals, but this is the first high-profile conviction in years.
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