Activists outraged by Austrian trial of corruption “informant”
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A private detective who helped orchestrate a scandal that toppled the Austrian government was on trial on Wednesday in a drug trafficking case, activists say he is being used to silence him.
The coalition government fell apart when a secret filmed video appeared in 2019 showing Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache appearing to offer government contracts to a woman posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch in exchange for ‘help for the campaign of his far-right party.
Private detective Julian Hessenthaler said in a parliamentary inquiry earlier this year that he conceived the idea for the video, shot on the Spanish island of Ibiza in 2017.
Hessenthaler was arrested in December last year in Berlin and extradited to Austria for selling more than one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cocaine in 2017 and 2018.
The 40-year-old man, who was tried on Wednesday in Sankt Poelten, west of Vienna, denies the charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
His lawyer Oliver Scherbaum called the accusations “false accusations to eliminate those who denounce corruption in politics”.
Activists said prosecutors had taken an “excessive way to silence Julian Hessenthaler”.
“Apparently he is designed to dissuade potential future informants from freely expressing their opinion,” Thomas Lohninger of Austrian group epicenter.works said in a statement released by 15 NGOs, including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders.
The Ibiza vacuum caused a huge scandal when it was released in May 2019.
Strache’s decision to step down has torpedoed the alliance between his far-right Freedom Party and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservatives.
Strache was given a 15-month suspended prison sentence for corruption last month in one of the investigations stemming from the “Ibizagate” scandal. He is appealing the verdict.
© 2021 AFP