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Vienna court finds Austrian ex-Chancellor Kurz guilty of perjury

A Vienna court on Friday found Austria’s conservative former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz guilty of perjury and handed him an eight-month suspended prison sentence, dealing a serious blow to any chance he may have of staging a political comeback.

“Sebastian Kurz is guilty,” Judge Michael Radasztics presiding over the trial said at the start of his ruling.

The case focused on whether Kurz, 37, was merely kept informed of deliberations on the appointment of executives for newly created state holding company OBAG when he was chancellor or was in fact calling the shots. The appointments were formally his finance minister’s responsibility.

Kurz testified to a parliamentary commission of inquiry in 2020 that he was “involved in the sense of informed”. The judge ruled that was not true and Kurz played an active role.

“I find this part of the ruling very unfair,” Kurz told reporters after the evening ruling, referring to the fact he was found guilty of one of three counts.

“We have appealed and I am very optimistic that we will receive a ruling in our favour in the second instance.”

Prosecutors produced evidence including text messages and testimony by a star witness – former Kurz loyalist Thomas Schmid, the first head of OBAG, who has turned state witness.

The judge said he found Schmid to be a credible witness and dismissed attempts by the defence to depict him as unreliable, as well as their argument that the number of witnesses called by the prosecution meant the case against Kurz was weak.

In court cases one does not add up witnesses on each side and count the score “like in a football match”, he said, adding the way witnesses approach questions and answer them is key.

Kurz, wearing a dark suit and light blue shirt, told the court before the ruling that the prosecution’s accusations had made him feel “terrible” and “helpless” and his defence team repeated in their summing up that he did not commit perjury.

Kurz’ then coalition partner, the Greens, forced him from office in 2021 when prosecutors placed him and nine other people under investigation in a separate case on suspicion of corruption. Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to bring charges in that potentially far more damaging case.

Kurz denies all wrongdoing.

Kurz has now left politics and the conservatives have slid to second or third place in the polls, making it likely they will lose seats in a parliamentary election this year. That has prompted speculation among his supporters that he could eventually return to lead the party and reverse its fortunes.

Polls, however, show a clear majority of Austrians say they do not want that. Kurz says he is happy in his new career as a businessman.

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