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Global Economy

Galeria owner Benko acquitted

The Austrian department store investor Rene Benko and nine other defendants have been acquitted of charges of political corruption in Vienna. At the end of the ten days of trial, the jury cited a lack of evidence to prove the defendants' guilt as the reason for the acquittal.

At the center of the proceedings was the former Green Party politician in Vienna, Christoph Chorherr, who was accused of corruption and abuse of office. The prosecution had raised the allegation that the former Vienna municipal councilor had accepted donations for a school project in South Africa from several prominent real estate entrepreneurs and managers and in return supported their real estate projects.

Donations to aid project

Overall, the accused had supported the aid project with around 1.6 million euros. Companies from Benko's Signa Holding, which today also includes the insolvent department store group Galeria Karstadt Kaufhof, donated a total of 100,000 euros in 2011 – far more than other organizations.

In addition to Benko, the majority owner of the battery manufacturer Varta, Michael Tojner, and the real estate developers Erwin Soravia and Gunter Kerbler were also accused. The corruption prosecutor accused the nine donors of bribery and incitement to abuse of office. All of the defendants had denied the allegations. Her lawyers argued that charitable donations are part of modern corporate culture.

"Topic closed for me"

Benko and some other defendants testified that they did not know Chorherr personally and that the politician was involved in the project in South Africa. "The charges had no substance, the allegations were false and unfounded from the start," Benko said. It was a "very fair evidential process". "That settles the issue for me," he said.

The judgment is not yet final. The prosecution announced that it would appeal against all acquittals.

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