Assertion by Austrian official voids conviction on restitution fraud, Jewish author says

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — Austria has no claims against a Jewish author who was convicted of defrauding the republic out of Holocaust restitution funds, a government official said.

The author, Stephan Templ, said the assertion in a letter last month by Martin Windisch, a representative of a federal financial agency, to Templ’s lawyer voids his conviction, which garnered headlines in the international media.

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Anat Cohen at The Sheldon


In January, the Supreme Court in Austria upheld Templ’s conviction for fraud and sentenced him to one year in jail. Austria was the victim of the fraud, the court ruled.

In his Sept. 9 statement to Templ’s lawyer, Windisch confirmed that the republic does not regard itself as a victim of any action by Templ.

The conviction was over Templ’s failure to include any mention of his aunt in a claim for restitution that he had filed in 2005 on behalf of the aunt’s estranged sister, who is Templ’s mother. His mother received $1.1 million from the claim.

“The Republic makes no claims against your client,” Windisch wrote in the letter, which was obtained by JTA. “The Republic and the Federal Real Estate Agency further assume that a claim for civil damages has not arisen on the part of the Federal Real Estate Agency as a result of his conduct.”

Templ claims the conviction is wrongful because the Austrian state never lawfully owned the asset it restituted to his mother and therefore cannot be regarded as the victim.

The statement “makes the verdict against me null and void,” Templ told JTA on Tuesday, adding that he will motion prosecutors to reopen his case based on the statement.

In 2001, Templ wrote a book that critically examined Austria’s restitution practices and confiscation of billions of dollars that belonged to Jewish Holocaust victims.

The New York Times published an article that featured criticism about the verdict by Stuart Eizenstat, a former deputy U.S. Treasury secretary and special adviser to President Bill Clinton for Holocaust issues in the 1990s.