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Trial of Austrian ex-MEP Ernst Strasser opens

image copyrightReuters
image captionMr Strasser was surrounded by reporters as he arrived in court

A former Austrian interior minister and Euro MP, Ernst Strasser, has gone on trial in Vienna on corruption charges, after being secretly filmed by British journalists posing as lobbyists.

Mr Strasser, of the conservative Austrian People's Party (OeVP), resigned as an MEP in March 2011.

The UK's Sunday Times newspaper alleged he had accepted offers of cash in exchange for influencing EU laws.

He has denied wrongdoing, saying he guessed that the "lobbyists" were fake.

He says he played along with the ruse in order to find out what was actually motivating the British pair, who dined with him before the Sunday Times expose in March 2011.

Prosecutors accuse him of having asked for a 100,000-euro (£81,000; $130,000) annual payment in exchange for influencing EU legislation in the European Parliament.

Eight days of hearings have been allotted for the trial, and a verdict is expected on 13 December. Mr Strasser, 56, faces up to 10 years in jail if found guilty.

He served as Austrian interior minister from 2000 to 2004.

Three other MEPs were named in the Sunday Times "sting" operation: Romania's Adrian Severin, Slovenia's Zoran Thaler and Spain's Pablo Zalba.

They all denied wrongdoing. Mr Thaler resigned and Mr Severin was expelled from the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) bloc, but remains an independent MEP. Pablo Zalba also remains an MEP in Spain's centre-right Popular Party (PP).

In June 2011 the EU anti-fraud agency Olaf said it had found no evidence of fraud on the part of Mr Zalba and closed its investigation into him.

Clarification 5 Dec 2012:The last paragraph was added to clarify that the investigation of Mr Zalba was dropped last year.

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