On July 26, 2023, our partner Andreas Pollak and Counsel Vincent Vertneg secured the final acquittal of our client Dr. h.c. Siegfried Stieglitz by the Vienna Higher Regional Court.
Read the full German “DER STANDARD” report and details about the trial here.
Here you find the english translation of the report:
Vienna Higher Regional Court confirms acquittals for Strache and Stieglitz
The Economic and Corruption Prosecutor’s Office aimed to overturn the acquittals of the former leader of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), Heinz-Christian Strache, and a co-defendant entrepreneur. “The appeal is not granted,” said the judge of the Vienna Higher Regional Court.
Sandra Schieder, July 26, 2023, 11:54
Former FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache was once again in court on Wednesday. APA/EVA MANHART
The acquittals of former FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache and co-defendant entrepreneur Siegfried Stieglitz in the ASFINAG case were confirmed by the Vienna Higher Regional Court in the second instance on Wednesday afternoon. “The appeal is not granted,” said the judge. The accusations involved bribery and corruption. Strache and Stieglitz had been acquitted by the Vienna Regional Court in July 2022.
The Economic and Corruption Prosecution Office (WKStA) had accused the former leader of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) and Vice Chancellor of facilitating a supervisory board position at the highway company Asfinag for a real estate entrepreneur who was friends with him. This was allegedly done in exchange for donations to the FPÖ-affiliated organization “Austria in Motion.” The prosecution identified bribery and corruption based on existing chats between Strache and Stieglitz. “Chats don’t lie,” was the statement in the closing argument of the WKStA at that time.
Acquittal “in Doubt”
However, the court found that the evidence in the case was not sufficient at that time. The judge explained in her verdict that for a conviction, there must be full certainty of both culpability and guilt. In the case of the two defendants, she stated that such certainty was not established for her.
While Stieglitz had intervened in many chats regarding various supervisory board positions, there was no evidence that Strache had knowledge of Stieglitz’s donation of 10,000 euros, the judge mentioned. Therefore, Strache and Stieglitz were acquitted “in doubt.” As expected, the Economic and Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (WKStA) lodged an appeal.
Corruption or Nepotism
A year later, the Vienna Higher Regional Court finally dealt with the ASFINAG case in an appeal hearing. “Corruption or nepotism, that’s what will be decided today,” said the prosecutor Bernhard Weratschnig at the beginning of the late Wednesday morning hearing. The prosecution maintained its argument that bribery or corruption was present. Weratschnig referred once again to chats between the two defendants, which included discussions about donations as well as invitations for Strache and his family to a birthday celebration in Dubai.
Stieglitz’s lawyer accused the WKStA of trying to deny the long-standing friendship between Stieglitz and Strache. The friendship between the two had existed years before the Freedom Party’s participation in the government. They had even gone on vacation together before Strache assumed the position of Vice Chancellor. Strache’s lawyer also emphasized that the invitation to Dubai for his client was nothing more than a friendly gesture.
The Vienna Higher Regional Court ultimately confirmed the initial acquittals for Strache and Stieglitz. Shortly before noon, the judge stated: “The appeal is not granted.” He praised the conduct of the initial trial and the well-founded verdict, thus rejecting the appeal from the WKStA.
In explaining the verdict, the judge referred to the political reality and compared donations to parties with lobbying. “Why would someone donate to a political party?” he asked. This happens for a variety of reasons, to have a “foot in the door” with political officials for different matters. This, he stated, is lobbying and not illegal.
Regarding the appointment of supervisory boards, the judge also noted that it’s a political reality that ministers should propose individuals for these positions in state-affiliated companies. The question is where else they could find these individuals if they were not already known to them in some way.
Strache relieved and “Grateful”
Strache expressed relief and gratitude after the verdict. “I have always known that I will clarify the false accusations during the trial and have had the utmost confidence in the judiciary,” he said.
“I’m glad that the judiciary works in Austria,” Stieglitz also commented. The entrepreneur sharply criticized the WKStA, feeling he had not been treated fairly by the authority. “The WKStA is an institution that cannot convict; it must be fair, and that was not fair to me.” Stieglitz also complained that the trial had cost him time and money, well over 100,000 euros.
At the beginning of the year, Strache was already acquitted in another trial of bribery charges related to the Prikraf case, involving the Private Clinics Financing Fund. Strache and private clinic operator Walter Grubmüller were accused in this case. The accusation centered around a suspected purchase of legislation. It was alleged that Grubmüller had donated 12,000 euros to the FPÖ in exchange for Strache’s support for including Grubmüller’s clinic in the Prikraf.
However, other investigations against Strache are still ongoing. This includes allegations related to appointments at Casinos Austria and the FPÖ expense scandal – where the accusation is that Strache used party funds to cover private expenses. (Sandra Schieder, July 26, 2023)