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Austrian ex-chancellor Kurz found guilty in false testimony trial

An Austrian court on Friday 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.

“Sebastian Kurz is guilty” of providing false testimony to an inquiry, judge Michael Radasztics announced to the court.

The conviction can still be appealed.

Kurz, 37, 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.

He still faces an ongoing corruption investigation that has damaged the reputation of the charismatic hardliner, who left politics in 2021.

– ‘Defenceless’ –

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

Prosecutors had insisted there was “no doubt” Kurz deliberately gave wrong testimony for “political reasons”, calling for a suspended jail sentence and a fine.

Kurz, who headed the ruling conservative People’s Party (OeVP) until 2021, had been accused of downplaying his influence in appointing the head of the state-owned holding company OeBAG.

Kurz’s lawyer Otto Dietrich had argued for his acquittal, insisting that his client had not given false testimony to the inquiry.

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 the official, Thomas Schmid, he had not decided it.

He tried to dismiss prosecutors’ suggestions that he had sought to control the appointment.

But Schmid 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 –

Political analyst Thomas Hofer has ruled out any imminent return by Kurz, who in 2017, at the age of 31, became the world’s youngest democratically elected head of government.

“This image of the star that’s still there — and if he comes back (to lead the OeVP), everything will be good — I think it’s just a wrong assessment of the situation,” Hofer told AFP.

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 percent 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.


Originally published as Austrian ex-chancellor Kurz found guilty in false testimony trial


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