Austria’s ex-vice chancellor on trial for corruption charges

Heinz-Christian Strache is accused of trying to change laws in exchange for donations

Lamiat Sabin
Tuesday 06 July 2021 12:57
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<p>The former Freedom Party leader waiting for  his trial to start</p>

The former Freedom Party leader waiting for his trial to start

The former Austrian vice chancellor and ex-leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party has gone on trial for corruption charges.

Heinz-Christian Strache went on trial on Tuesday at a court in Austria’s capital Vienna. The trial is expected to last four days.

He is accused of trying to change laws in order to favour a private hospital in exchange for donations.

Prosecutors allege that Mr Strache accepted a donation of about £8,500 for his party in exchange for a legal amendment that would have benefitted the donor’s private hospital by bringing it under a public funding umbrella.

If convicted, Mr Strache could be imprisoned for a period of time ranging from six months to five years.

His legal team announced that neither he nor his lawyers will give any public statements during the trial.

Mr Strache was involved in the fall of the previous Austrian government, a coalition of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservative Austrian People’s Party and the Freedom Party.

In May 2019, a video emerged which prompted accusations that the then-Freedom Party leader Mr Strache was offering favours in exchange for donations to a Russian investor called Igor Makarov.

In 2017 in Ibiza, Spain, he and his party’s deputy leader Johann Gudenus met a woman going by the name of Alyona Makarova, who posed as Mr Makarov’s niece.

In parts of the secretly-recorded video, the two men appeared receptive to the idea of illegal donations to his party and providing the party with positive news coverage in return for government contracts.

Mr Strache has denied wrongdoing, attributing what he said in the six-hour-long video to being intoxicated.

Mr Makarov, the founder of Russia’s first independent gas company, rejected allegations that he was involved, adding that he does not have a niece. His biography states he has no siblings.

But the revelation opened the way for a number of corruption investigations, after mobile phones belonging to Mr Strache and other politicians were seized.

The “Ibiza-gate scandal” prompted Mr Kurz to pull the plug on the national government.

Mr Strache, who denied any wrongdoing, was later kicked out of the Freedom Party in December 2019.

In 2020, a partial transcript of the video was published by Austria’s public prosecutor’s office which appears to show that Mr Strache had refused the woman’s offer of doing anything illegal, according to German media reports.

In the same year, Mr Kurz’s Austrian People’s Party returned to power in a coalition with the Greens.

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