World

Former Austrian leader Sebastian Kurz convicted of making false statements

He was given an eight-month suspended sentence.

The case marked the first time in more than 30 years that a former Austrian chancellor had stood trial (Heinz-Peter Bader/AP)
Sebastian Kurz The case marked the first time in more than 30 years that a former Austrian chancellor had stood trial (Heinz-Peter Bader/AP) (Heinz-Peter Bader/AP)

Former Austrian leader Sebastian Kurz has been convicted of making false statements to a parliamentary inquiry into alleged corruption in his first government.

He was given an eight-month suspended sentence.

The verdict at the Vienna criminal court followed a four-month trial.

The case marked the first time in more than 30 years that a former Austrian chancellor had stood trial.

The case centred on Kurz’s testimony to an inquiry that focused on the coalition he led from 2017 until its collapse in 2019.

The verdict at the Vienna criminal court followed a four-month trial (Heinz-Peter Bader/AP)
Sebastian Kurz The verdict at the Vienna criminal court followed a four-month trial (Heinz-Peter Bader/AP) (Heinz-Peter Bader/AP)

Prosecutors accused the 37-year-old of having given false evidence in June 2020 regarding his role in the setting up of a holding company, OeBAG, which administers the state’s role in some companies, and the appointment of his former close confidant Thomas Schmid to its leadership.

Judge Michael Radasztics found Kurz guilty of making false statements about the appointment of the company’s supervisory board, though not about that of Mr Schmid.

Kurz sat motionless as the judge announced the verdict to a packed courtroom. The ex-chancellor is expected to appeal against the verdict.

Kurz said he was “very optimistic” that he would be cleared on appeal. “I tried honestly to testify truthfully to the commission of inquiry,” he added.

Once a rising star among conservatives in Europe, Kurz resigned in 2021 after a separate corruption probe opened and has since left politics.

However, his Austrian People’s Party continues to lead the government under current Chancellor Karl Nehammer. The party is currently trailing in polls ahead of a national election expected in September.

In his closing statement, prosecutor Gregor Adamovic said Kurz had “actively” supported Mr Schmid with the aim of handing OeBAG’s leadership to his preferred candidate, and contended that it was clear the then-chancellor signed off on all the candidates for the company’s board.

Kurz has repeatedly stated that he was only “informed” about but not actively involved in the decision.

The prosecution also contended that Kurz made false statements in order to avoid public criticism of cronyism which he had himself declared to fight in the Austrian political system.

In their indictment, which was not released to the public but was obtained by the Associated Press, prosecutors reference potentially incriminating chat messages found on Mr Schmid’s phone. Mr Schmid, who is co-operating with prosecutors, testified extensively.

In an emotional closing statement to a court session that stretched into the evening, Kurz said it made him feel “helpless” to see that the trial was mainly about how prosecutors interpreted his statement to the inquiry and not what he had actually meant.

“What I said during the parliamentary inquiry does not correspond to the interpretation of the prosecution,” he said.

Kurz rose to power with an anti-immigration platform and was only 31 when he became the leader of the People’s Party and then chancellor in 2017.

Kurz pulled the plug on his first government after a video surfaced that showed the vice chancellor and Freedom Party leader at the time, Heinz-Christian Strache, appearing to offer favours to a purported Russian investor.

A few months later, Kurz returned to power in a new coalition with the environmentalist Greens in early 2020, but resigned in October 2021.

The Greens had demanded his replacement after prosecutors announced that he was a target of a second investigation into suspected bribery and breach of trust. Kurz also denied any wrongdoing in that case.

His former chief of staff, Bernhard Bonelli, was tried along with Kurz and was convicted on Friday of making a false statement to the parliamentary inquiry about his own involvement and that of Kurz in the selection of OeBAG supervisory board members.

He was given a six-month suspended sentence. Bonelli’s lawyer also plans to appeal.