From Vice Chancellor to Knacki: Strache anticipates his first sentence on Ibiza

It’s the first trial in the Ibiza complex: on Friday, the verdict is expected in the Briegraf trial against former Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz Christian Strache – on corruption charges. More action awaits the former head of the far-right FPÖ – and not only him.

When Heinz Christian Strache was still celebrating success, he liked to do so under a picture of himself showing him in the style of Alberto Korda’s famous Che Guevara portrait: sparkling, wrinkle-free eyes pointed into the distance. A winner, a fighter for justice – this is how the former head of the right-wing FPÖ always saw himself. The picture was on a wall at the FPÖ Parliamentary Club in Vienna, where Strache is now Persona non-Grata.

The famous video of Ibiza, who wanted the “Red Bull Brother of Austria” to sell half the republic to a pseudo-oligarch’s niece, allyed with Sebastian Kurz in May 2019. Just weeks later, it became known that he must have lived a luxurious life at the expense of partying. In December 2019, the blue “Family” disqualified its former sponsor. A comeback attempt with “Team Strache” in the Vienna 2020 elections failed terribly. Politically, Strache has been a loser since Ibiza.

Tomorrow, Friday, it will be determined whether the rapid descent will even lead to the imprisonment of the former Vice-Chancellor of the Republic of Austria. The verdict in the corruption trial against Strache, the first court case in the Ibiza complex, will be pronounced at the Vienna Regional Court in the early afternoon. Strach threatens up to five years in prison for corruption. And that’s just the beginning – for him and several other members of the government at the time.

Giveaway and leave against the law?

Specifically, the Business and Corruption Prosecutor’s Office accuses Strache of giving his friend Walter Grubmüller access to a multi-million dollar Social Security Fund – in exchange for party donations and personal interests. Entrepreneur Grubmüller has officially transferred a total of €12,000 to the FPÖ in two tranches. In fact, investigators found evidence of other secret payments in chat messages. In addition, Grubmüller is said to have invited Strache and his wife Philippa for a vacation in Corfu, at their own expense, including arrival and departure on a private plane. Grubbmüller is also on the dock for bribery.

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In turn, the prosecution argued, Strache called for Grobmüller’s “Vienna International Medical Clinic” to be included in the so-called “Private Hospital Fund” Brigraph, through which private clinics would be partially reimbursed for treatment costs. In fact, the Grubmüller Clinic, which mainly offers plastic surgery, was included in Prikraf in 2018 under the ÖVP-FPÖ government and the fund was expanded by 14 million euros at the same time.

“Which law will be important to you?”

Unsurprisingly, Strache’s version of the story looks quite different: he felt it was “unfair” to exclude Grubmüller from Prikraf for years, so he defended him – but out of political conviction: “I know I’m my life has never been corrupt”.

The amount of Strache’s commitment can be read from the chat messages Strache and Grubmüller exchanged during coalition negotiations between the FPÖ and ÖVP in October 2017: “What federal law will be important to you so that the private clinic is finally treated fairly?” Deputy – the appointed counsel, added an hour later: “You need a subtle change in the law so you can get your permits! LG.” Grubmüller apparently did not want to discuss the matter by text message, so he replied that he would attend the order “tomorrow at the party headquarters”.

To the Chancellery thanks to major donors

On Friday, the Vienna Regional Court had to answer a difficult question: When do donations become corruption? When is the proximity of politicians to business leaders in favor of both parties criminally relevant? How bad is what the Austrian coach calls “Freunderlwirtschaft”?

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Sebastian Kurz, for example, owes his way to power to a few generous and wealthy benefactors such as department store heiress Heidi Horten, who has funneled nearly a million euros to ÖVP. KTM’s president of motorcycle and bicycle manufacturer Stefan Perrier doubled all donations received in 2017 and threw a total of €436,563 into the campaign fund. In July 2018, the ÖVP-FPÖ government headed by Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz passed the controversial new law on working hours, the 60-hour week. Such a law has been demanding for years in interviews: KTM boss Stefan Perrier.

So Perrier had to testify at the “Ibiza” commission, which investigated the possibility of the federal government’s alleged purchase of the ÖVP-FPÖ until June of this year. Perrier did not want to see a connection between his donation and the 60-hour week there. Law against donation? This idea should be “completely rejected”.

Another informant saw it differently: Walter Grobmüller, Heinz Christian Strache’s neighbor in the dock. “You have to buy the political will,” the businessman said in his interrogation before the Ibiza commission. “It is now clear to me that it is, and that will be clear to everyone here. (…) I know how Austria works.” He did not want to take this as a confession, but on the contrary: Grobmüller describes himself as a victim of corruption – the corruption of others who have treated him and his clinic unfairly for years.

ÖVP . men were also investigated

How politics really works in Austria has been the big question since Heinz-Christian Strache promised the oligarch’s “schoafen” government contracts in the famous Ibiza video if it bought the powerful newspaper “Kronen” and transferred it to the FPÖ line. Promise, by the way, is not sanctioned because Strache was not holding a government position in the summer of 2017. It is only assumed that “advanced corruption” will become sanctioned in the context of the anti-corruption package, which, despite the main statements of the Minister of Justice Green, was not passed distance.

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The Ibiza video served only investigators and prosecutors as a door opening – into a room with many other doors. Dozens of actions are now pending in the Ibiza complex. Many only gave up after investigators gained access to government officials’ cell phones. This is how they learned about the conversations of Grubmüller and Strache.

Strache still faces several actions, for example due to his party’s infidelity – he is said to have paid his children’s education fees, cleaned his pool and shopping trips from the party lockers. In addition, the judiciary is scrutinizing associations close to the party that Strach said in Ibiza that donations could be obtained from “bypassing the Court of Audit”. Even with this problem, investigations go beyond the FPÖ, also showing clubs located near the ÖVP and SPÖ.

Last but not least, the investigators are getting closer to the Federal Chancellery: a total of about a dozen politicians and officials from the ÖVP environment are currently at the epicenter of the judiciary, including former and current Finance Minister Gernot Blumel. The sword of Damocles in the indictment still hovered over Sebastian Corz: the Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation of perjury before the Ibiza Commission. A decision to drop the case or to charge is expected in early fall. Regardless of what the Vienna Regional Court decided on Friday at the first trial of the Ibiza Council: it was not the last word.

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