Causa Buwog: Attorney General largely in favour of confirmation of judgment

Causa Buwog: Attorney General largely in favour of confirmation of judgment
Main suspect Karl-Heinz Grasser

The highest public prosecutor’s office in the Republic, which acts as a guardian of the law, recommends that the Supreme Court (OGH) confirm the guilty verdicts in the first instance in essence.

“The Attorney General’s Office recently submitted a comprehensive, 160-page statement to the Supreme Court on the eight appeals for annulment filed by the defendants. In the opinion of the Attorney General’s Office, the verdict should essentially be confirmed because of the guilty verdicts for breach of trust,” said the Attorney General’s Office spokesman, Martin Ulrich, on Monday after the statement was delivered to the defendants’ defense attorneys.

“In detail, the Attorney General’s Office recommends confirming all convictions for breach of trust relating to the Buwog complex, except for one defendant, and all convictions for breach of trust relating to the Terminal Tower complex relating to all defendants affected by this,” Ulrich clarified. Furthermore, “convictions passed on various defendants for various accompanying offenses and concealment acts, some of which were committed as participants,” the authority spokesman stated.

  • Also read: Grasser/Buwog: Supreme Court ruling could take until 2025

Grasser sentenced to eight years in prison

Three and a half years ago, Grasser was sentenced to eight years in prison after 169 days of proceedings in a sensational trial for breach of trust, falsification of evidence and acceptance of gifts in the Buwog affair. The case concerned corruption in connection with the privatization of 60,000 federal apartments owned by Bauen und Wohnen GmbH (BUWOG) by the then FPÖ finance minister and events in the Linz Terminal Tower case. In the course of the proceedings, other smaller charges in connection with the Telekom affair were included in the trial. In the end, in addition to Grasser, the former FPÖ politician Walter Meischberger, the ex-lobbyist Peter Hochegger and the ex-Immofinanz boss Karl Petrikovics were also convicted, with sentences of seven, six and two years respectively.

Starzer excluded

The Attorney General’s Office had to examine the appeals for annulment filed by these four prominent men and four other defendants – including a lawyer and a Swiss asset manager, the former Telekom board member Rudolf Fischer and the former RLB-OÖ board member Georg Starzer – against their respective convictions. In its croquis, the authority comes to the conclusion that the convictions for breach of trust in the BUWOG complex are well founded, with one exception – this concerns Starzer. Although the Supreme Court is not bound by the opinion of the Attorney General’s Office, their opinions are usually taken into account because they are prepared by proven experts after a thorough assessment.

In this specific case, the file to be examined by the Public Prosecutor’s Office comprised 58 boxes. The BUWOG complex alone comprised 5,200 documents, as the authority announced in a media statement. The first court’s written judgment was 1,280 pages long, and the appeals against it totaled 1,141 pages.

With regard to Karl-Heinz Grasser, the Attorney General’s Office believes that the guilty verdicts on the charges of acceptance of gifts by officials in relation to the BUWOG case and the Terminal Tower complex, as well as for falsification of evidence, should also hold. In a secondary aspect, however, the annulment of a guilty verdict for involvement in the falsification of evidence is recommended. This concerns alleged concealment in the form of written contracts. “From our point of view, the verdict does not specifically determine how Grasser contributed to this with his actions. There is no specific reference to the facts,” explained Attorney General Ulrich to the APA. Apart from this one guilty verdict, the authority found no flaws in the first-instance court’s findings with regard to Karl-Heinz Grasser.

The same applies to Meischberger, Hochegger and Petrikovics. In the case of Meischberger, the prosecution sees only a flaw in the findings regarding involvement in bribery in the Terminal Tower complex, and in the case of Petrikovics, in the offence of bribery in BUWOG. The convictions for breach of trust should be confirmed for both defendants, and the one for accepting gifts should be confirmed for Meischberger. In the case of Hochegger, where an unconsidered piece of evidence comes into play in the Telekom complex, the breach of trust should be overturned on this point. There are also flaws in the findings regarding bribery in the BUWOG strand and embezzlement and false testimony in a parliamentary investigative committee in 2012 in the case of Hochegger, so that the convictions should be overturned to this extent.

  • 1280 pages in 420 days: These are the details of the written Buwog ruling

Legal force

If the Supreme Court follows the General Prosecutor’s Office in dealing with the appeals for annulment – there is still no date for the presumably public court hearing – the findings of the first court on the central allegations would become legally binding. However, the judgment would have to be set aside for the findings that were flawed and related to the side issues of the case and a new hearing would have to be scheduled at the Vienna Regional Court on these points. “To this extent, a repetition of the proceedings is recommended,” explained Prosecutor’s Office spokesman Ulrich. This involves “on the one hand, convictions for breach of trust against one defendant in the Buwog complex and two defendants in the Telekom complex, and on the other hand, convictions for individual accompanying offenses and acts of concealment,” the latter of which concerns four defendants and “convictions for bribery or involvement in it,” Ulrich stated.

If the Supreme Court implements these recommendations, the original sentences would become obsolete and the sentences would have to be re-determined at the end of the new main hearing. This means that Grasser, Meischberger & Co could at least hope for a reduction in their sentences.

The Attorney General’s Office also considers the appeal for annulment by former RLB-OÖ board member Starzer, who was sentenced to three years in prison in the first instance, to be entirely justified. In his case, the full annulment of the verdict and a new trial for breach of trust and bribery in the BUWOG proceedings are recommended. The Attorney General’s Office is also suggesting that the conviction of former Telekom board member Fischer for breach of trust – the subject of the proceedings was, among other things, the sponsorship of a gala – be annulled. In the case of the Swiss asset manager and the lawyer, the Attorney General’s Office recommends that the initial verdicts be confirmed.

This article was updated at 12:37 p.m.

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