The Austrian property and retail billionaire René Benko has been acquitted of bribery costs in a intently watched court docket case.
Benko and 9 different defendants have been declared harmless by a jury on Monday night in a high-profile continuing that alleged a scheme to deprave a Inexperienced politician, Christoph Chorherr, who was chargeable for planning permissions in Vienna.
Prosecutors mentioned the accused, who additionally included rich property builders Michael Tojner and Erwin Soravia, had donated greater than €1.6mn to a charity run by Chorherr to ensure that him to grant beneficial dispensations for profitable developments in Austria’s capital. Benko’s Signa Group was the only largest donor within the case.
“The clear and full acquittal speaks for itself,” Benko mentioned. “As we said all alongside, the costs had no substance in any way, the accusations [were] groundless and utterly false from the very begin.
“The court docket reached this conclusion after conducting an intensive and truthful process which clarified all of the information. For me, this matter is now closed.”
Attorneys for the defendants argued that charitable donations have been repeatedly made by corporations and that the quantities granted to Chorherr’s charity particularly have been solely a small a part of the general sums being given away to a broad vary of organisations.
Austrian prosecutors mentioned they meant to enchantment in opposition to the decision.
For Benko — the co-owner of well-known European malls Selfridges and KaDeWe, in addition to New York’s Chrysler constructing — the case was vital.
The developer has already as soon as been discovered responsible of bribery in a 2013 case, and questions over the way through which he has run his sprawling enterprise empire — a lot of which is held via a sequence of opaque trusts and shell corporations based mostly in Switzerland and Liechtenstein — have clung to his affairs ever since. A second conviction might need sophisticated Benko’s capacity to finance his operations.
The 45-year-old is at present a named suspect in a second, separate corruption probe by Austrian prosecutors, which noticed Signa’s headquarters in Innsbruck raided in October. It additionally includes a clutch of Austria’s strongest politicians, together with the previous chancellor Sebastian Kurz. No costs within the case have but been made.
Benko is underneath strain in Germany, too, the place his Galeria Kaufhof division retailer chain — the nation’s largest — was put into chapter safety in November.
The Austrian court docket’s choice within the Chorherr case is a blow for the WKStA — the state prosecutor for financial crime and corruption — that has had Benko in its sights, and can elevate contemporary questions on its credibility.
The WKStA has up to now had extraordinarily restricted success in attaining precise convictions, regardless of having made public a sequence of salacious allegations in opposition to high-profile and politically linked people akin to Benko.
Many amongst Austria’s conservative rightwing institution, significantly these near former chancellor Kurz, imagine the WKStA is pursuing a nakedly political agenda.
A spokesperson for the WKStA mentioned they didn’t touch upon the end result of court docket circumstances.