Austrian far-right leader in court on bribery charges

Photo: AP Former Freedom Party from leader Heinz-Christian Strache waits for the start of a trial in a courtroom in Vienna, Austria

Former Austrian vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache was accused of corruption at the start of his trial in Vienna on Tuesday, after he allegedly accepted money for supporting a change in legislation.

The case, as dpa reports, revolves around a donation of €10,000 ($11,858) to Strache's far-right Freedom Party by the operator of a hospital in Vienna. At the time Strache was party chairman. The hospital's operator, a friend of Strache, is also charged with bribery. Both men reject the allegations.

The Austrian public prosecutor accused Strache of helping the hospital operator for his own benefit, and drew a connection between a donation to the party and the support of the hospital. The prosecutor saw this as an attempt to buy a change in the law in order to allow the operator to charge medical treatment costs directly to the Austrian social insurance funds.

The prosecutor also pointed out that the hospital operator had invited Strache and his wife to Corfu, including flying them to the island and back by private jet. Strache rejected all charges of corruptibility and said he was not guilty.

As dpa reminds, Strache was Austrian vice chancellor from December 2017 until May 2019, under a coalition with the conservatives. The coalition, however, collapsed due to the so-called Ibiza affair, triggered by the release of a video secretly recorded on the Spanish island in which Strache talked with a woman posing as a wealthy Russian donor about deals to gain influence over Austrian media and infrastructure.

On Tuesday, Strache's lawyer also said that the Ibiza video showed that his client was not corrupt, if viewed at full length, although the montage shown suggested otherwise. The video is nearly seven hours long. Lawyer Johann Pauner also said the Corfu trip cited by the prosecution had taken place in 2016, before Strache became vice chancellor. He also paid for the flight himself, he said.

Strache faces charges of corruption and could be sentenced to up to five years in prison. The hospital operator is suspected of bribery.

The trial at the Vienna Regional Court is set to last four days.

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