* Jailed as result of Sunday Times sting operation
* Strasser's lawyer says to appeal against verdict
* Judge says tough sentence warranted as deterrent
(Adds quotes and background)
By Michael Shields
VIENNA, Jan 14 Former Austrian Interior Minister
and European lawmaker Ernst Strasser was sentenced to four years
in jail for bribery on Monday in a case that prosecutors said
undermined trust in European and Austrian institutions.
Strasser had faced up to 10 years in prison after being
caught on camera offering to propose amendments to European
legislation in exchange for 100,000 euros ($133,500) a year.
"There have been few people in the ... republic who have
damaged Austria's image as much as you have," Judge Georg
Olschak told a stony-faced Strasser, 56.
"That is why it was necessary to impose a penalty that would
have a deterrent impact on possible copycats, and there are
likely a few of those."
Strasser's attorney said he would lodge an appeal.
Strasser was exposed by undercover journalists from
Britain's Sunday Times posing as lobbyists during a sting
operation that ran from mid-2010 to March 2011.
Austria's top law enforcement official from 2000 to 2004,
Strasser resigned when the story broke while denying wrongdoing.
He said he wanted to protect the Austrian conservative People's
Party, of which he was a senior member.
He insisted during his trial that he went along with the
"lobbyists" because he believed they were U.S. Secret Service
agents and he wanted to find out what they were after.
Olschak dismissed that line as one of the most outlandish he
had heard in his two-decade career.
The two British journalists who broke the story in 2011 -
Claire Newell and Jonathan Calvert - testified on Monday via
video conference, the screen placed so that only court officials
- not spectators - could see the undercover reporters' faces.
Calvert told the court the reporters had approached dozens
of European Parliament members to sound them out about prospects
for amending legislation in return for money, and met around 14.
But it was Strasser, who was an MEP from 2009 to 2011, who
made headlines in the sting.
LOBBYIST? OF COURSE
The duo had asked Strasser to amend for clients draft
European laws on handling electronic scrap and on regulating
investments. They were told it was too late to alter the first,
but said Strasser took credit for getting the second changed.
"He came back and said he had achieved an ever better result
than we had asked for," Calvert said.
Strasser followed the proceedings calmly, occasionally
jotting in a notebook he held in his lap.
"Of course I am a lobbyist," Strasser had told the
journalists in a secretly filmed video that has been published
on YouTube (r.reuters.com/gyd34t).
"This is a wonderful opportunity to learn all the people, to
have my own network, and to use this network for my, for my
companies. It's a very good combination."
Prosecutor Alexandra Maruna, who had kicked off the trial by
saying Strasser "massively harmed European politics", echoed his
filmed comments in her final summation.
"'Of course I'm a lobbyist,' Strasser said," she noted,
turning to him in the dock. "No you weren't. You were a member
Strasser is one of several once-mighty Austrian politicians
brought down by corruption scandals that triggered tighter laws
last year on party funding and politicians' finances.
Witnesses testified that Strasser was obsessed with the idea
he was being spied on, but prosecutors repeatedly questioned why
he had not gone to the authorities with his fears.
European politicians have battled to keep faith with the
post-war ideals of European integration and rejection of extreme
nationalism that led to the founding of what would become the
European Union more than 60 years ago.
Less than 50 percent of the EU's half a billion citizens
voted in the last European Parliament elections in 2009, and a
poll in 2011 found that 26 percent had a negative image of the
parliament, up from 17 percent three years earlier.
Defence lawyer Thomas Kralik had argued that what his client
did may have been morally reprehensible but was not illegal.
"The optics are not too nice, but this is a criminal trial. You
are not here to judge optics," he told the judge and jury.
Three other European lawmakers were caught in the Sunday
Times sting operation - Romania's Adrian Severin, Slovenia's
Zoran Thaler and Spain's Pablo Zalba Bidegain. Thaler resigned
after the scandal but the other two still sit in parliament.
(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Mark Heinrich)