Two clear acquittals in two major cases within a few days. It’s not the first, but a particularly embarrassing humiliation for corporate and corruption prosecutors.
On Monday, former Green politician Christoph Chorherr and all those charged against him were acquitted by the Vienna Criminal Court of charges of abuse of office and corruption or bribery.
Insufficient loads in the Chorherr process
Not only that: this procedure revealed glaring errors and shortcomings of the prosecution. For example, in the indictment Chorherr was wrongly called the planning councilor of the Viennese city council, while he was only the planning spokesman for his party. In addition, in four years of investigation, the WKStA has failed to question the accused investor René Benko before the prosecution, which his lawyer Stefan Prohaska criticizes as “deeply disturbing”.
The WKStA already suffered a major defeat two weeks ago. In the proceedings before the private hospital financing fund (Prikraf), both ex-FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache and private clinic operator Walter Grubmüller were acquitted. It was suspected that Grubmüller had wanted to buy an unsolicited application from the then opposition party to include all private clinics in the Prikraf, which had no chance in parliamentary practice, for donations to the FPÖ totaling 12,000 euros.
First verdict overturned, then acquittal
This was initially accompanied by a conviction at first instance, against which Strache appealed. As a result, the verdict was overturned due to contradictions and the trial had to be repeated. This replay ended in flat acquittals. The public prosecutor nevertheless appealed, which in turn surprised some observers. Constitutional Minister Karoline Edtstadler of the ÖVP said: “As a former judge, this cannot necessarily be immediately explained, even to me. Anyone can appeal to a rule of law, but it gives a strange feeling.”
Strache has a few procedures to cover, but not much has come out of all the others. In July he was acquitted of charges of corruption by the Vienna Regional Court, as was co-defendant businessman Siegfried Stieglitz. Strache was accused of obtaining a position on the supervisory board in Asfinag for donations to a Stieglitz association close to the FPÖ. From the point of view of the Court of First Instance, the evidence in this case was not sufficient for a conviction, but this decision is not final.
Aldermen: No abuse of office by Waldhäusl
The trial of Lower Austrian FPÖ county councilor Gottfried Waldhäusl and a former county employee also ended in September with an acquittal. These proceedings concerned alleged abuse of office in connection with the accommodation of unaccompanied minor refugees in the Drasenhofen asylum shelter. The WKStA had accused the Party for Freedom and former state officials of abuse of office because the rooms were unsuitable for minors. The young people were “subjected to a measure that destabilized their personality”. However, according to the jury’s verdict, the accommodation was “not necessarily unsuitable”.
The trial of the alleged subsidy fraud in connection with the Multiversum Multipurpose Hall in Schwechat also ended in March 2022 with nine acquittals and only one conviction. The case of the Vienna City Extension Fund also went wrong. The controversial trial of Interior Ministry officials ended with acquittals in 2021. The public prosecutor had accused the four defendants – the former director of the fund and one former and two active department heads – of improper use of money. However, the Vienna Regional Court could not follow the prosecution’s arguments and acquitted them of the allegations.
The only notable conviction that the WKStA obtained dates from two years ago and is not final. It was the BUWOG trial against ex-finance minister Karl-Heinz Grasser, who was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2020. A date for the appeal hearing has not yet been set.
Boss rejected criticism
A few days ago, the head of the bureau, Ilse-Maria Vrabl-Sanda, rejected criticism of the WKStA’s work. “The rule of law is not a football game, we are not playing a game”, but the WKStA fulfills a constitutional mandate. Matters are often handled in advance, without any procedure. If there is “at least a vague suspicion”, then a procedure must be started – and that is “the very beginning, far from a conviction”. Thus, a suspicious statute is “not a bias” – and ending a proceeding is not a failure either. Certainly not when a fact has been clarified or reforms (for example the criminal liability of buying a mandate) have been set in motion.
I am Ida Scott, a journalist and content author with a passion for uncovering the truth. I have been writing professionally for Today Times Live since 2020 and specialize in political news. My career began when I was just 17; I had already developed a knack for research and an eye for detail which made me stand out from my peers.