Cash for Law

“There were probably only a handful of people that have caused such enormous damage to [this country’s] reputation as you have,” Judge Georg Olschak addressed Ernst Strasser, former conservative Interior Minister on 14 January, on delivering his grounds for preliminary sentencing former high-ranking ÖVP-politician to four years in prison.

The verdict drew a line under the so-called ‘cash-for-law’ scandal of 2011, when undercover journalists Claire Newell and Jonathan Calvert for The Sunday Times approached four MEPs of different nationalities, posing as company lobbyists with the request of changes to EU legislation, a service Strasser was evidently willing to provide, as a video clip published on 20 March 2011 on YouTube made eminently clear – for a small fee of €100,000 to help “change critical content” in legislation of the European Parliament. (See “Lobbying: An Austrian Solution” in March 2012 TVR.)

Yet, the harsh verdict is remarkable for Austria, given the numerous corruption scandals of recent years. As a result, Judge Olschak argued, the current case “needed to impose a sufficiently severe sentence, so as to discourage possible ‘copy-cat’ crimes. And there are probably many of those.”

But the fact that a former minister is likely to go to prison on corruption charges is a novelty here, as there have been no sentences of this kind for over 40 years, the last in January 1969, when Franz Olah (1910 – 2009), former Social Democratic Interior Minister and Workers Union boss, was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to a year in prison, of which he served eight months.

Olah, a survivor of the Dachau Concentration Camp, had misused Austrian Trade Union-funds to support the far right FPÖ with 1.2 million Schillings (€87,000) in the mid 1960s. He also had bailed out Hans Dichand’s Kronen-Zeitung….

Today, Judge Georg Olschak commented that corruption is clearly not a new phenomenon: The only novelty was in the approach, its “impertinent public display”. But then again, in the words of Ernst Strasser, who had worked as a lobbyist before returning to politics as MEP in 2009: by his standards, this was “very discrete.”


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