After years of denial, Harald Himmer (ÖVP) still confessed: The manager and member of parliament of the governing party ÖVP sent money from Alcatel-Lucent’s coffers to the lobbyist Peter Hochegger. At that time, Himmer was general director of Alcatel-Lucent Austria, ÖVP district party leader and member of the Bundesrat. He still holds the function of chairman, he became a member of the Federal Council again two years ago. The politician gets away with no prison sentence. What became of the embezzled money and what it was used for remains a matter of debate.
On Monday, Himmer, the previously convicted Hochegger and the previously convicted Rudolf Fischer, once a high-ranking manager at A1 Telekom Austria, were tried for breach of trust. In the morning Himmer still protested his innocence, after lunch he then confessed: Yes, in 2007/2008 as general director of Alcatel-Lucent Austria he commissioned and paid for two “studies” at Hochegger’s company Valora AG, although the studies were worthless. This satisfies the criminal offense of infidelity.
One paper was called “Study on the investigation of the market environment of Telekom Austria”, the other “Study on the potential for improvement in the investment climate in the fixed network sector”. According to the indictment, Fischer confirmed the value of these “studies,” which the man denies. It is undisputed that Alcatel-Lucent paid EUR 127,200 on December 28, 2007 and EUR 117,600 on June 12, 2008. According to the indictment, it was agreed that part of the money would flow back covertly: Himmer and Fischer were each to receive 35,000 euros, and Hochegger 36,000 euros.
Thick envelopes of cash
Hochegger, who has confessed for years, stated in court that he had handed over an envelope containing 19,000 euros in cash at the Hotel Intercontinental Himmer in Vienna. Fischer received 12,000 euros and a Marilyn Monroe painting by a Warhol student worth 7,000 euros. Himmer and Fischer deny accepting the money; the painting was a present for his 55th birthday, Fischer said in court.
He explained why Himmer paid almost a quarter of a million euros to Hochegger as follows: Hochegger should intervene with the authorities and governing parties on behalf of A1 Telekom Austria and its DSL supplier Alcatel-Lucent. Hochegger, on the other hand, has a different memory: “My assumption was that Himmer wanted to vote me in favor of not intervening too much for Huawei.”
Guilty but no penalty
The jury panel of the Vienna Regional Court found Hochegger guilty of infidelity on Monday, but did not impose a sentence at all despite a sentence of up to three years. Reason for the extraordinary mildness: It should be taken into account that Hochegger had already been sentenced to two years of partially conditional imprisonment for transferring money from A1 Telekom Austria to the then ÖVP coalition partner BZÖ. (The BZÖ is a right-wing party founded by Jörg Haider in 2005 as a spin-off from the FPÖ, which is now meaningless, note.)
In addition to Monday’s impunity verdict, a six-year prison sentence that Hochegger received for his involvement in the BUWOG scam is not legally binding. The process is about the amazingly cheap sale of state-owned apartments by the then Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser (FPÖ, later independent).
Confession but no conviction
Himmer also goes unpunished and is even considered not to have a criminal record at all. The prosecution has him namely diversion offered, which Himmer accepted. He now has to pay 11,500 euros, after which the proceedings against him will be discontinued. The public prosecutor justified the generous offer by saying that the crime was 15 years ago and that Himmer had behaved well since then.
“Torment bigwigs, choose Himmer” – Himmer first became known with this advertising slogan in 1990. He tried unsuccessfully to collect enough preferential votes for entry into the National Council as a hopeless ranked ÖVP candidate. At that time, Himmer demanded, among other things, a term limit for members of parliament, but later as a member of the Bundesrat he did not comply with his request.
Fischer was acquitted on Monday; neither the acceptance of cash nor the value certificate for the worthless studies could be proven to him. He has already had several previous convictions for corruption: in the Telekom I (price manipulation of Telekom Austria shares) and Telekom III (illegal party financing from Telekom coffers) proceedings, Fischer received prison sentences of several years. In addition, there is a year’s conditional imprisonment (not legally binding) for abstruse cash flows relating to a government contract (Tetron affair).