Strasser denies wrongdoing as bribery retrial begins

by Reuters
Tuesday, 4 March 2014 13:51 GMT

Former Austrian Interior Minister Ernst Strasser waits for his trial to start in Vienna March 4, 2014, in a corruption case that has undermined trust in European and Austrian institutions REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

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VIENNA, March 4 (Reuters) - Former Austrian Interior Minister and European lawmaker Ernst Strasser professed his innocence on Tuesday as his retrial in a cash-for-laws case began.

A Vienna court last year sentenced Strasser to four years in jail for bribery after he was filmed offering to propose amendments to European legislation in exchange for 100,000 euros ($137,700) a year.

But Austria's supreme court overturned the conviction in November and ordered a new trial, ruling it was not clear Strasser had demanded money to influence specific legislation, a loophole in the law that was closed only last year.

Prosecutor Alexandra Maruna cited four specific directives that she said Strasser had offered to amend: on dangerous materials in electronic devices, on handling scrap from such devices, on genetically modified food and on investment rules, the Austria Press Agency reported.

But Strasser, in a cast and on crutches following a skiing mishap, denied wrongdoing. "I promised to be available for general advice, nothing else," newspaper Der Standard's website quoted him as saying in court.

Journalists from Britain's Sunday Times posing as lobbyists filmed Strasser during a sting operation that ran from mid-2010 to March 2011.

Austria's top law enforcement official from 2000 to 2004, Strasser resigned when the story broke, denying wrongdoing but saying he wanted to protect his conservative People's Party.

He had insisted during his first trial that he went along with the "lobbyists" because he believed they were U.S. agents and he wanted to find out what they were after.

A verdict is expected on March 13.

($1 = 0.7260 euros) (Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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