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Austria: Former far-right leader stands trial for bribery

July 6, 2021

Austria's former vice chancellor, Heinz-Christian Strache, allegedly accepted donations in exchange for directing public funds. An investigation into Strache was opened after the 'Ibizagate' video scandal broke in 2019.

Strache walks out the door
Strache stepped down as FPÖ leader in 2019 after being filmed discussing a cash-for-influcence scheme Image: picture-alliance/dpa/APA/K. Hecht

Proceedings begin Tuesday in a Vienna court for former Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, who is facing charges related to a scandal that collapsed Austria's coalition government in 2019.

Strache is accused of offering to change a law to help a political donor secure public funding for a private hospital. A donation of €10,000 ($11,800) was allegedly transferred from the hospital operator to Strache's far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ).

At the time the FPÖ was part of a coalition government with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz's center-right People's Party (ÖVP).

The hospital operator, a friend of Strache, has also been charged with bribery. Both men dispute the allegations. The trial is planned to last four days.

What was 'Ibizagate'?

The investigation into Strache was launched after a video surfaced in German media in 2019 showing Strache discussing exchanging political influence for money. It was filmed in 2017 on the Spanish island of Ibiza.

Strache can be heard in the video promising state contacts to a woman he believed to be the niece of a Russian oligarch in exchange for helping the FPÖ campaign for elections. He thought the woman would be able to guarantee good press coverage.

He did not know he was being filmed and that the meeting had been a sting operation. Strache later said he was intoxicated when he made the statements and claimed that he may have been drugged.

After the video was made public, a judicial investigation was launched leading to the seizure of mobile phones belonging to Strache and several other politicians. This led to at least 12 separate criminal probes.

Strache was kicked out as FPÖ leader, and the coalition government with Kurz's FPÖ collapsed.

wmr/rt (dpa, AFP)