Austria's Vienna State Court on Friday acquitted former Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and an associate of corruption charges.
Strache, who led the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), was accused of having secured a supervisory board post for businessman Siegfried Stieglitz in exchange for his channeling funds to the FPÖ through Austria in Motion, a group with ties to the party.
The court found that Stieglitz had intervened in an "ugly" manner by making several cash donations to the FPÖ to secure the post at Austria's state-owned highway management corporation, ASFINAG — which plans, finances, builds, maintains and collects tolls on the country's freeways — but that it could not be proven conclusively that Strache had been aware of them.
Speaking after the verdict was announced, Strache said he was "grateful and relieved that the false accusations could be disproven over the course of the trial ... and that there was an acquittal."
Strache is currently serving a 15-month suspended sentence after being found guilty of corruption in a similar quid pro quo case last August. In it, he was found to have helped change laws to the benefit of a friend operating a private medical clinic in Vienna.
The Ibiza Affair: The scandal that brought down the Austrian government
In 2019, another scandal involving Strache led to the fall of the entire Austrian government. In a covert video shot in a home on the Spanish party island Ibiza in 2017, Strache and fellow FPÖ politician Johann Gudenus drink and smoke while discussing a pay-to-play political scheme with a woman purporting to be the niece of a Russian oligarch seeking to make investments in Europe.
The video was published in Germany by the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung and the weekly Der Spiegel on May 17, 2019. Strache tried to brush off images of him describing exactly the types of money channeling schemes he would later stand trial for as, "a drunken affair."
The publication, however, hit like a bombshell. Strache had named several wealthy Austrian donors in describing his scheme, causing them to make public denials, and his behavior raised grave questions about the FPÖ's ability to continue governing as the junior partner of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his Austrian People's Party (ÖVP).
Strache and Gudenus both resigned from all government and party positions on May 18, 2019. Later that evening, Kurz met with President Alexander Van der Bellen to dissolve Austria's governing coalition.
In 2021, Kurz announced his retirement from politics in the midst of a corruption investigation into him. He is now a global strategist at Thiel Capital, which is owned by the billionaire political donor and US businessman Peter Thiel.
js/msh (AP, dpa)