VIENNA — A court on Friday found former Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, ex-leader of the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), guilty of corruption and sentenced him to 15 months in prison, pending an expected appeal.
At issue in the trial, which began in early July and wrapped up this week, was whether Strache helped businessman and FPÖ donor Walter Grubmüller by offering to change a law to benefit Grubmüller’s private medical clinic in Vienna. Grubmüller was also convicted, and sentenced to one year in prison pending appeal.
According to text message records, Strache asked Grubmüller which part of the law would need to be tweaked to ensure his clinic was “treated fairly.” Once the FPÖ was in government, the party oversaw an amendment to the law from which Grubmüller stood to benefit.
Grubmüller reportedly made two donations to the FPÖ in 2016 and 2017, one for €10,000 and another for €2,000, and invited Strache on an all-expenses-paid trip to the Greek island of Corfu in 2018 in exchange for his help revising the law. Strache has said he ultimately didn’t take Grubmüller up on the Corfu offer, although he did take a trip to the Greek island with Grubmüller in 2016.
Both Strache and Grubmüller strongly disputed the notion that there was any corruption or bribery involved in their relationship. “I expected friendship and nothing else” from Grubmüller, Strache said during the trial. He told the online news portal OE24 before the trial that he was certain he’d be exonerated: “I know I have never been corrupt in my life.”
Friday’s verdict is an indirect consequence of the so-called Ibiza affair, which in May 2019 triggered the collapse of Austria’s government (then a coalition between Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s People’s Party — ÖVP — and the FPÖ).
That scandal began when German media released a secret recording of Strache on the Spanish resort island from just before Austria’s 2017 parliamentary election. In the video, Strache appeared to offer to trade government contracts for campaign help from a woman he believed was the niece of a Russian oligarch.
Strache resigned the day after the video broke, saying it was an attempt at “political assassination.” He was kicked out of the FPÖ that fall after another scandal, this time over alleged misuse of party funds for personal expenses, which helped tank the party’s support in the 2019 parliamentary election.
The far-right politician attempted a comeback with a new party he founded in last year’s local elections in Vienna, but failed to win enough votes to secure seats in the city council.