Former Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz found guilty of perjury

World 12:02 24.02.2024

Former Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz has been found guilty of perjury in a politically charged trial that has gripped Austria’s establishment for the last six months, Ednews informs via The Financial Times.

In a verdict delivered on Friday evening in Vienna, judge Michael Radasztics handed Kurz — a 37-year-old once hailed as the wunderkind of European conservative politics — an eight-month conditional sentence with a three-year probationary period attached.

Under Austrian law, the judgment will not have legal effect until Kurz’s avenues of appeal have been exhausted. The former Austrian leader said he had “wrongfully been found guilty” and that the trial had been brought about by “political opponents”. His lawyer said he would appeal against the verdict.

The case against Kurz, opened by Austrian prosecutors more than two years ago, centred on statements he had made in 2020 to a parliamentary investigative committee probing corruption in his government.

Kurz, then still chancellor, was accused of lying to the committee under oath after he told it he had not played a decisive role in appointing an ally to run Austria’s state holding company, ÖBAG.

Leaked messages from the phones of government officials later painted a different picture. Kurz was finally charged in August last year.

“The parliamentary investigatory committee serves to control those in power,” said senior public prosecutor Roland Koch in the prosecution’s concluding statement. “False statements to the committee are punishable. The higher-ranking the respondent, the greater the damage to democracy.”

Kurz’s former chief of staff Bernhard Bonelli was also found guilty.

Despite the technical nature of the case — criticised by many Kurz supporters as a pettifogging attempt to snare the former chancellor — the trial became a lightning rod for broader public disaffection with Austria’s turbulent recent political history and with Kurz’s legacy.

Twice chancellor of Austria — from December 2017 to May 2019 and from January 2020 to October 2021, with both administrations collapsing amid scandal — Kurz was once an unassailable force in Austrian politics, and for a time seen as the future face of rightwing politics in Europe.

For his supporters, his youth and dynamism breathed life into mainstream conservatism and defanged anti-establishment populism.

But his critics felt his manicured style masked widespread cronyism while his policies legitimised far-right narratives.

Austrian prosecutors are still pursuing multiple lines of enquiry as part of a broader probe into political graft in Austria, which began with the collapse of the first Kurz government.

Kurz is also a suspect in that inquiry, alongside several dozen other senior government officials and businessmen, although no charges against him have yet been brought.

The mounting scandal over the probe forced him from office a second and final time in 2021.

Since Kurz’s departure, the popularity of the conservative Peoples’ party (ÖVP) he once headed — which governs in coalition with the Greens — has dramatically waned.

Austria’s far-right Freedom party — led by Herbert Kickl, a sworn enemy of Kurz who served in his first government — now leads the polls.

The poor ratings of chancellor Karl Nehammer, Kurz’s successor and the current ÖVP chief, led some for a time to wonder whether Kurz might mount a comeback — a possibility his conviction has now almost certainly quashed.

His trial has caused a media sensation in Austria, not least because of the drama at its centre: one of Kurz’s closest allies, Thomas Schmid, the figure whom Kurz had appointed to run ÖBAG, provided the critical testimony against his former boss.

Schmid is also a witness for prosecutors in the broader anti-corruption investigation.

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