In 2019, Vice-President Heinz-Christian Strache was exposed for attempting back-door dealings with Russia through the publication of the ‘Ibiza video.’ The video records Strache involved in a “pay to play” scheme, talking about selling Austrian contracts and a popular Austrian media outlet to a person that lured him into believing she was a daughter of a Russian oligarch. The affair could not be whitewashed, and resulted in the break up of the federal government of Strache’s FPÖ and Sebastian Kurz’s Christian-democratic ÖVP.
During the latest episode connected to the case, Strache had been accused of corruption for supporting Austrian businessman Siegfried Stieglitz in his shady bid for a supervisory board post in the Austrian highway management corporation ASFINAG, after Stieglitz donated large sums to a group called “Austria in Motion” with close ties to the FPÖ.
Even though the prosecution announced it possessed a “very dense substrate of evidence,” the State Court of Vienna ultimately acquitted Strache and Stieglitz “in dubio pro reo,” as there was no conclusive evidence of Strache having knowledge of Stieglitz’s donations. The court did, however, refer to the donations as an “ugly intervention” by Stieglitz, but that was not enough to sentence either of the accused. Strache’s lawyer pointed out that the donation by Stieglitz was not punishable, as he donated the money only after his appointment to the ASFINAG (Austrian motorways).
Following the verdict, Strache told the Austrian newspaper Exxpress that he was “relieved, grateful and humbled” by the verdict. “All witnesses exonerated us. The accusation of collusion was clearly refuted,” said Strache, adding that it could be shown that there were “false accusations and false interpretations on the part of the public prosecutor’s office.”
Strache plans to take “a short break” following the verdict, but will soon be expected in Austrian courts again. While investigations were discontinued in six instances, there are five more cases pending. Earlier, Strache had been found guilty of corruption for helping to change laws to benefit a friend operating a private medical clinic, but his conviction was not legally binding. Strache has appealed, but according to the former FPÖ head “the judiciary has not acted on this appeal for months.”
With legal costs for his defense exceeding several hundred thousand euros by now, the prosecution succeeded in almost ruining Strache economically, even if he’s being acquitted in most cases against him.