Ex-Austrian MEP imprisoned in lobbying scandal

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Former Austrian MEP Ernst Stasser was sentenced to a four-year prison term yesterday (14 January) on a corruption conviction that stemmed from being caught by journalists posing as lobbyists in a cash-for-influence case.

A court in Vienna sentenced Strasser, who is also a former interior minister and a politician from the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), saying no mitigating circumstances could be claimed because of the seriousness of the crime.

The judge said that the court had no doubt that Strasser illegally demanded money in 2011 in exchange for influencing the legislative procedure.

Strasser resigned as MEP and from the ÖVP in 2011. Together with two other MEPs, Strasser was trapped by journalists from the Britain's Sunday Times posing as lobbyists.

The reporters sought to shed light on allegations that some MEPs were prepared "to sell their services" to push through specific amendments to EU legislation in exchange for remuneration.

Of the three MEPs targeted by the sting, Slovenia’s Zoran Thaler has resigned from Parliament, but Romania’s Adrian Severin has kept his seat.

Sunday Times journalists Claire Newell and Jonathan Calvert testified in the Austrian court and said Strasser had offered his services for €100,000 a year.

The two reporters secretly filmed their meetings with Strasser, tapes of which were made available to the court and were also handed to the European Parliament.

One of the meetings took place in a London office for their bogus lobbying firm, staffed by other Sunday Times journalists “to make it look busy”, Newell told the court, as quoted by Agence France-Presse.

At the time, Thaler sent EURACTIV a written statement explaining that he realised immediately that the lobbying firm did not exist and that his further actions were only intended to uncover who was behind what he saw as an attempt to discredit him.

According to the Sunday Times, Severin had emailed the fake lobbying firm saying, "just to let you know that the amendment desired by you has been tabled in due time," before sending them a €12,000 invoice for "consulting services".

Asked to comment at the time if the €12,000 invoice was fake, Severin said it had been requested for “something else”, insisting that providing consultancy services was not illegal.

Severin has a law firm and works as a lawyer in parallel with his MEP activities.

Of the three lawmakers targeted, only Severin still sits in the European Parliament, as a non-attached MEPs. He was previously a member of the Socialists and Democrats.

The British press is famous for its spoofs exposing corruption.

In 2004, undercover reporters from the BBC programme Panorama pretended that they were lobbyists for the London 2012 Olympic bid. They managed to secretly film Ivan Slavkov, president of the Bulgarian Olympic Committee, who indicated he was willing to vote in favour of London's bid and to solicit votes from other IOC (International Olympic Committee) members in exchange for bribes.

As a result, Slavkov was expelled from the IOC.

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