Vom accusation of corruption the Tyrolean investor René Benko was acquitted by the Vienna Regional Court in a criminal case on Monday for bribery and corruption and taking advantage. All other defendants were also acquitted after a three-month trial. At the center of the proceedings was the former Viennese local politician of the Greens, Christoph Chorherr. According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office for Economic Affairs and Corruption (WKStÖ), the former member of the municipal council, who was among other things the planning spokesman for his parliamentary group, demanded or accepted payments from well-known real estate companies for a non-profit association he had initiated. In return, the donors are said to have promised themselves advantages in the approval process.
Almost a dozen figures from the Austrian business world had to answer to suspected abuse of office and bribery in various forms of participation. However, this was not proven at trial. The process had taken ten days of negotiations. In his closing speech, the corruption prosecutor asked the lay judges: “Please think Austrian!” The accused entrepreneurs were extremely unfavorable for the prosecution. “They are likeable, they are clever, they are successful.” They are also salespeople and “in the course of this negotiation they sold themselves and very well”.
Chorherr had “significant influence” in the town hall: “He was certainly listened to in the green club.” That’s why some people may have thought: “It doesn’t hurt if I have him on my side.” The accused were certainly not stupid, it was found the accuser.
A project at Vienna Central Station was the focus of the allegations against Benko and the Signa group he controlled. A donation in 2011 enabled the prominent real estate developer to play at the Vienna Regional Court. Benko’s Signa group donates far larger amounts to other organizations, emphasized his lawyer. There is no evidence that one wanted to influence the dedication process. The completely lawful process of the corresponding tender and subsequent approval was assured. This was by no means a “desired dedication”, but a determination of the building regulations.
According to his legal representative, Benko donated 100,000 euros to the non-profit association. Benko has been supporting various institutions for many years, his lawyer explained. The co-defendants also include the industrialist and majority owner of the Varta battery manufacturer, Michael Tojner, and the real estate developers Erwin Soravia and Günter Kerbler. “Michael Tojner’s donations are not related to the Heumarkt Neu zoning project,” emphasized his defense attorney Johann Pauer. And referring to the plea of the business and corruption prosecutor’s office, he said: “Please don’t think Austrian! Please disregard any prejudice!”
The prosecution declared nullity against all acquittals. The alleged crimes – abuse of official authority, corruption and bribery – carry a penalty of six months to five years in prison. The range of penalties depends on the amount of the advantage demanded, accepted or granted. In the case of an advantage of a value of more than 50,000 euros, a prison sentence of up to ten years can even threaten.