Sunday

23rd Apr 2017

Former MEP on trial in cash-for-amendments scandal

Former Austrian MEP Ernst Strasser went on trial on Monday (26 November) in Vienna charged with accepting bribes from British reporters posing as lobbyists.

The Sunday Times last year exposed Strasser and three other MEPs as willing to bend EU legislation in the interest of the fake lobbyists' clients. Strasser claimed €100,000 a year for these services, Austrian prosecutor Alexandra Maruna said.

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  • Ernst Strasser says he figured out the lobbyists were not for real (Photo: Martin Ehrenhauser)

Even if Strasser did not actually receive any of that money, what mattered was that he offered his vote for money, she said.

"He massively harmed European politics," Maruna told the court.

Strasser, who also served as Austrian interior minister between 2000-2004, denied any wrongdoing and said he knew the two journalists were not real lobbyists.

He went to expensive dinners and played along in order to expose them as spies from a foreign country, presumably the US, he said.

When the judge asked him why he did not tell police about his suspicions, Strasser replied that his experience as interior minister taught him not to trust them.

His lawyer Thomas Karlik did not dispute that Strasser asked journalists to pay him €100,000, but said this is what "thousands of people do daily in Austria, Brussels and worldwide: making contacts and offering to use them."

In transcripts of Strasser's discussions with the Sunday Times journalists, published in Der Standard, he said that "most MEPs are as lazy as I am" and boasted of having five other such customers who pay him on the side.

He faces up to 10 years in jail if found guilty. The verdict is expected on 13 December.

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The European Parliament is continuing to deny EU anti-fraud investigators access to its buildings, while the office of a fourth MEP implicated in the ongoing cash-for-amendments scandal remained open on Monday.

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Over half of the MEPs have activities outside the European Parliament, earning between €5.8 and €18.3 million on top of their regular salaries, according to a database pooling their declarations of financial interests.

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