Austrian ex-chancellor Kurz found guilty in false testimony trial

Austrian ex-chancellor Kurz found guilty in false testimony trial
Austrian ex-chancellor Kurz found guilty in false testimony trial

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Austria's former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz speaks to journalists as he leaves the court after his trial at the Regional Criminal Court of Vienna, Austria, on February 23, 2024, where his verdict has announced following a months-long trial for alleged false testimony. — AFP pic

VIENNA, Feb 24 — An Austrian court yesterday found former chancellor Sebastian Kurz guilty of giving false testimony to a parliamentary inquiry, handing him an eight-month suspended jail sentence.

The verdict came at the end of a months-long trial for the former politician once hailed the “wunderkind” of Europe’s conservatives.

Kurz, 37, said he would appeal the verdict, calling it “surprising” and “not fair”.

“I am very optimistic” for the appeal, he told reporters outside the court.

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Kurz was sentenced for having misled a parliamentary inquiry probing wide-ranging corruption scandals that brought down his first coalition government with the far-right in 2019.

The charismatic hardliner, who left politics in 2021, still faces an another corruption investigation.

Prosecutors in this case had insisted there was “no doubt” Kurz — who headed the ruling conservative People’s Party (OeVP) until 2021 — deliberately gave wrong testimony for “political reasons”.

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In his closing statement before the verdict, Kurz said he had felt “defenceless” and “terrible” in the face of the prosecutors’ accusations.

He had been accused of downplaying his influence in appointing key officials, including the head of the state-owned holding company OeBAG.

The judge found him guilty of making false statements about his involvement in the appointment of the OeBAG board.

But he ruled Kurz was not guilty over his statements pertaining to its head, Thomas Schmid.

Rival witnesses

Throughout the trial, which took 12 days spread out since October, Kurz portrayed himself as the victim of a selective prosecution and an opposition out to “destroy him”.

Kurz said that while he had been informed about the appointment of key officials, he had not decided on them.

He dismissed prosecutors’ suggestions that he had sought to control key appointments.

Schmid had testified that Kurz in fact held the reins and could veto any appointment of personnel in key companies.

Among the other witnesses who testified were two former finance ministers, who backed Kurz, as well as two Russian businessmen who spoke via video conference from the Austrian embassy in Moscow.

The Russians gave testimony as defence witnesses that discredited Schmid — though one of them raised eyebrows when he said Kurz’s lawyer had helped draft his statement.

Further investigations

Prosecutors are still investigating Kurz on suspicion of having embezzled public money to fund polls skewed to boost his image, and to pay for favourable coverage.

But they have so far failed to obtain any convictions in that case.

They began investigating after a video emerged in 2019 showing Kurz’s then-vice chancellor — from the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) — offering public contracts to a purported Russian investor for campaign help.

The FPOe slumped in popularity after the scandal, but under new leadership it has bounced back to top the polls.

Currently, it is polling at about 30 per cent ahead of elections expected in September.

Kurz is now involved with numerous private international enterprises.

In 2022, he launched a cybersecurity company with the former head of Israel’s NSO Group, which makes the controversial Pegasus spyware.

It is the first time in more than 30 years that a former chancellor has stood trial.

In the last case, Fred Sinowatz of the Social Democrats was found guilty of giving false testimony, and received a fine. — AFP

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