It was the biggest white-collar crime court case in Austria ever and perhaps also in the EU. Austria’s former finance minister Karl-Heinz Grasser along with more than a dozen alleged co-conspirators has been charged with corruption. After seven years of investigation by the public prosecutor’s office, a 3-year trial with 168 trial days and 150 witnesses, Grasser was sentenced to 8 years in prison and more than €9 million in restitution payments. There was no witness who directly observed a criminal act. The court believes that the trace of the money provides the respective evidence beyond any reasonable doubt. The judgment is not final. Grasser has appealed.
Follow the money and find the villains
The remarkable thing about this verdict is, in our opinion, that the court, chaired by the honorable judge Marion Hohenecker, has given priority to the trace of money in the evaluation of the evidence. It is in the very nature of intelligent white-collar crime that money stolen or unlawfully acquired through corruption or embezzlement is laundered through complex networks of bank accounts, companies, and jurisdictions.
Typically, there are only a few witnesses and if there are, they are usually accomplices. This was also the case with Karl-Heinz Grasser. In the end, the jury agreed with the prosecutors and found that beyond any reasonable doubt Grasser indeed could be connected to accounts in which dirty money was held through money movements. Hence, Grasser and seven of his alleged co-conspirators have been sentenced to prison terms between 2 to 8 years.
It’s the trace of money, stupid!
Grasser had expensive lawyers (he still has them). But neither his lawyers nor he have understood the essence of the prosecution to this day. At least that is what it looks like!
Grasser and one of his lawyers complained in an extensive TV interview after the verdict that he was convicted even though 147 witnesses had testified for him or at least not against him and the remaining 3 witnesses had only given impressions or provided a sort of circumstantial evidence. No witness, however, would have incriminated him directly. Therefore the verdict would be incomprehensible. He did not understand that the trace of money in economic crimes must have priority in the evidence.
The verdict against Grasser – even though it is not yet final – is a watershed moment in the fight against corruption in Austria and the EU. It is the way the evidence has been evaluated – the priority of the money trail over witness testimony – that has ultimately impressed in this judgment and will hopefully set the trend for future white-collar crime cases.