Scheuch ‘will not plead guilty’

Carinthian Freedom Party (FPK) boss Uwe Scheuch emphasised that he had no plans to plead guilty to unjust enrichment after a verdict against him was annulled.

The Provincial High Court of Styria (OLG) in Graz announced last week it wanted the Court of Klagenfurt to re-examine the case again. OLG experts had to look into the issue following Scheuch’s decision to appeal. Klagenfurt judges found Scheuch guilty of unjust enrichment last August. They sentenced him to six months in jail and another 12 months on suspension. It is still unclear when the trial will continue.

Scheuch accused the Carinthian court in a first reaction to the initial verdict that it acted “politically motivated”. The deputy governor of Carinthia did not make any further statements regarding the case ever since. After being informed that he will be in court again as Graz judges granted his appeal, Scheuch claimed he was “speechless”.

The FPK leader said: “I have no precise information about the decision yet. Furthermore, I decided some time ago to be reluctant and cautious with statements regarding the issue. I will not make any changes in this regard.”

Now Scheuch stressed yesterday (Mon) he “will not plead guilty”. Gerhard Dörfler, the governor of Carinthia, controversially congratulated Scheuch regardless of the outcome of the second-instance trial. The OLG of Graz explained last week it decided to call for another examination of the Scheuch case as the politician had not been informed about some legal steps taken by the judge during the initial trial in its opinion. The Graz panel failed to comment the decision to sentence the right-winger.

Scheuch – whose advocate Dieter Böhmdorfer once served as Freedom Party (FPÖ) justice minister – was found guilty of unjust enrichment by judges in Klagenfurt after prosecutors decided to take action over a leaked audiotape.

The recording suggested that the FPK head promised political interference in favour of a Russian businessman in exchange for investments in Carinthia. Scheuch denied any wrongdoing and said his political role would not enable him to influence federal decisions such as the question who would receive Austrian passports. Artists and generous investors regularly become Austrian citizens if the federal government agrees about it.

Scheuch is accused of asking the Russian businessman with interest in investing in the province of Carinthia for a donation for the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) as part of the whole procedure. Scheuch – who was a member of the BZÖ before the FPK was set up – rejected this allegation.

The apparent increase of cases of alleged abuse of office and bribe of Austrian businesspeople and top-tier politicians could give the election campaigns of the Green Party and new movements such as the Austrian Pirate Party (PPÖ) a boost. Established parties like the Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the People’s Party (ÖVP) could suffer defeats in the upcoming general ballot and the various provincial and regional elections of the coming months as several ex-government ministers might be entangled in the biggest corruption cases of the country of the recent past.