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Austria convicts ally of late right-winger over Telekom fraud


An Austrian court on Friday sentenced a close ally of the late extreme-right party leader Joerg Haider to three years in jail for fraudulently billing Telekom Austria for 600,000 euros.

Gernot Rumpold, who was an advertising consultant for Haider's Freedom Party at the time, was found guilty of embezzlement for sending the telecom firm a bill for fake consulting services in 2004, money that prosecutors said was used to fund Haider's party.

Rumpold was convicted alongside former Telekom Austria executive Rudolf Fischer who was also handed a three-year prison sentence, most of it suspended.

The two men were ordered to pay back Telekom Austria the full amount, while the Freedom Party, which was deemed to have falsely enriched itself, was ordered to pay a levy of 600,000 euros ($800,000) plus interest.

A lower-level telecom operator was given three months in prison for breach of trust.

The verdict comes at a sensitive time for the Freedom Party, currently the third largest party in parliament, as national elections are scheduled for late September.

All three defendants and the Freedom Party said they would appeal against the rulings.

Haider sent shockwaves through Europe in 2000 when his far-right party became part of the Austrian federal government.

Following Haider's drink-driving death in 2008, support for the party -- which has since split -- has fallen, not least because of a string of damaging corruption cases.

The scandals have added to accusations that Haider, along with making light of Nazi concentration camps and praising the Waffen SS, was keen on using his power to line his pockets.