Former Australia Finance Minister Found Guilty in Corruption Case

Former Austrian Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser was sentenced to 8 years in jail after he was found guilty of taking bribes in one of the country’s biggest postwar corruption trials. 

 The Vienna court ruled that Grasser was part of a group that received bribes for helping the winning bidder in a 961 million-euro ($1.2 billion) sale of state-owned apartments in 2004, presiding judge Marion Hohenecker said in a verdict Friday. 

Several other defendants charged with related crimes were also found guilty and sentenced to jail and fines. 

 During the trial, a co-defendant, who was also best man at Grasser’s wedding, admitted passing on insider information enabling a consortium to buy 60,000 government-owned flats for 961 million euros, one million euros more than a rival bidder. 

 Just three years later, the consortium valued the apartments at about double the price. Grasser, who as finance minister had decided to sell the flats and knew of the bids, and his co-defendants received kickbacks totaling 9.6 million euros. 

 “Only Grasser could have passed on information” to the winning consortium, judge Marion Hohenecker said. 

 She rejected a claim by a co-defendant that the relevant information had come from Joerg Haider, the controversial former head of the far-right Freedom Party who died in 2008 and who had himself faced multiple corruption allegations. 

 Grasser regularly hit the headlines of Austria’s tabloids in the 2000s alongside his wife Fiona, a fashion designer and heiress to the Swarovski crystal empire. 

In 1992, Grasser became the protégé of Jörg Haider, the Austrian far-right leader. Grasser’s defense attorney Manfred Ainedter said he would contest the verdict, calling it “plain mis-judgement” and promising to “raise every appeal.” 

 According to Ainedter, the jury failed to understand “the enormous pressure” of “tens of thousands of negative media reports” that “unjustly condemned Karl-Heinz Grasser.”

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