Former Australian finance minister held guilty in high-profile corruption scandal

The former finance minister of Austria has been sentenced to eight years in prison in a high-profile corruption scandal.

On Friday, Karl-Heinz Grasser was held guilty of embezzlement, receiving bribes and falsification of evidence in a deal to sell thousands of publicly owned apartments.

The court in Vienna said Grasser was involved in kickbacks of more than EUR €9 million.

Grasser has however denied the charges and has decided to appeal.

In 2000, Grasser became the youngest finance minister in the country’s history.

‘High-profile scandal’

The case involved 14 defendants facing an array of charges, which included money laundering, fraud and falsifying evidence.

The court said Grasser and a middleman passed on information about a bid during a scheme to privatise 60,000 apartments, which in turn enabled a rival to put in a slightly higher winning bid.

A consortium purchased the apartments for EUR €961 million, three years later, they were valued at double that amount.

According to the court, the winning bidders paid one per cent of the purchase price, EUR €9.6 million, to ex-Freedom Party of Austria General Secretary Walter Meischberger and lobbyist Peter Hochegger. Both men were also handed prison sentences.

This money was then divided into three bank accounts in Lichtenstein, the court found.

The verdict was based on hundreds of witness statements along with tapped telephone calls.

Judge Marion Hohenecker said: “Those who do business honestly do not need any accounts in Lichtenstein.”

She added that the winning bidder’s success “was achieved through bribery and was only possible because of the intentional abuse of authority” by the former finance minister.

Grasser’s lawyer described the ruling as a “blatant misjudgement” and said an appeal would be placed with the Supreme Court.