Note: The contents in words and pictures of this article are based on the facts when it was first published (13.04.2011).Vienna, 13th April 2011
End of the Animal Protection Trial!
Ninety-seven days in court - some of those lasting up to fifteen and a half hours without a lunch break - Verdict due on 2nd May
The animal protection trial is over. The judge allowed no further witnesses or submissions of evidence from the defense or the prosecution. On the 1st April the prosecution, defense and defendants gave their closing statements. The only thing missing now is the verdict.
It had been clear for some time that the judge was not willing to continue proceedings for much longer. Then she announced the date the trial would end and rejected any further submissions with an ever quickening pace. The final days of the trial lasted from nine in the morning until thirty minutes past midnight, without taking a break for lunch. After ninety-seven days in court, ninety-eight including the verdict date, it was over. Three hundred thousand pages of case files containing a trial lasting one year and a month long. What ever happens, this will go down in Austrian legal history as the craziest and most bizarre trial of all time.
What took place in the last days of the trial?
The end of the linguist's expert statement
The expert statement submitted by linguist Dr Wolfgang Schweiger was intended to prove without reasonable doubt that Dr Martin Balluch was the author of numerous polemic notes claiming responsibility for crimes as well as letters and articles in publications. This provided the only objective evidence against VGT. However, a further two extensive expert statements from recognised experts in the field showed that the first statement was completely unconvincing. Dr Schweiger charged 50,000 Euro for his 'work', but during the trial it came to light that he himself had added one hundred and seventy-eight mistakes to the texts being examined and attributed at least five of his own mistakes to Dr Balluch as incriminating evidence.
For four of the texts attributed by Dr Schweiger to Dr Balluch, the real authors were subsequently found and they testified in court that the texts were indeed theirs. Dr Schweiger went on to claim that he had found the strongest linguist 'fingerprint' he had ever seen in the texts and was able to match it to Dr Balluch but this linguistic 'fingerprint' was someone else's. In another example of Dr Schweiger's 'work' he wanted to attribute a five hundred and sixty-two word text to Dr Balluch based solely two phrases appearing in two parts of it although these phrases did not appear once in the comparison text written by Dr Balluch.
Dr Schweiger even developed his own technique intended to 'catch' Dr Balluch. However, using this technique also showed that Dr Balluch must have been the real author of an article from a well-known Austrian journalist in one of the daily papers! After seven days in the witness box the judge finally announced that Dr Schweiger was not capable of delivering a conclusive expert statement. And with that, the only piece of objective evidence against VGT was gone.
Is liberating pigs animal cruelty?
On the 31st March the court was concerned with the question of whether opening the door in an intensive pig farm, where pigs weighing 110 kg are confined to a space of 0.7 m² with slatted floor and no straw, constitutes animal cruelty. Yes, you did read that right, the question was not whether the intensive farming is cruel, but instead opening the door so that the pigs could go outside in the sunshine in the field surrounding the pig shed. The charge of animal cruelty was that the pigs may have scratched themselves in their excitement. The judge gave the impression that she too did not follow this line of reasoning. In any case, nobody from VGT is accused of this liberation.
The prosecution tries to sabotage the closure of the trial
Just before the closing statements the prosecutor unexpectedly tried to extend the charge. An anonymous caller had informed the defense that the previous head of VGT Dr Franz-Joseph Plank had not only been a police informant since 2002, but also that he had met with the prosecution before appearing in court as a crown witness. This meeting was kept secret. What exactly was arranged between Plank and the prosecution during this meeting remains unclear, but, what Plank told the court was completely different to what he had told the police. Suddenly Dr Plank was accusing the current VGT spokesperson, Dr Balluch, of criminal damage, animal cruelty, theft and even implied a possible accusation of arson. Based on this statement the prosecution attempted to extend the charge, thus prolonging the trial. But, due to the fact that Dr Plank's statement was totally unconvincing and that many of its points could be objectively refuted, the judge decided to refuse the application and closed the case.
The prosecution's closing statement was as if the intervening thirteen months had never taken place. He monotonously repeated the content of his opening statement, labouring points which had long been refuted and adding no new aspects. Then the six defense lawyers spoke movingly about the burden placed on the defendants by the trial, the absurdity of the charge and the appalling behaviour of the police special commission, which continually suppressed exonerating evidence and hindered access to case files.
The defendants completed the round of statements by adding many facts and details. It is still not clear whether the prosecutor actually suspected the existence of a criminal organisation and simply couldn't prove it, or whether he assumed that the legal activities carried out by the defendants constitutes membership in a criminal organisation already. The closing statements ended at ten o'clock in the evening. Then the judge closed the trial and announced that the verdict would be given on 2nd May.
Which verdict is it going to be? Fact is that the judge heard the case from the prosecution - thirteen months of it - but closed the case before hearing the case for the defense. She can only be of the opinion that the defense has nothing to defend itself against, because the charge remained without substance. And that means a not guilty verdict, at least for the charge of being a member of a criminal organisation.
The other charges are not against VGT, but comprise some points which only in combination with the existence of a criminal organisation can be seen as relevant. The launching of a campaign can only be seen as intimidation, as put forward in the trial, when a criminal organisation really exists that plans a criminal campaign. There never was a criminal organisation nor was there a criminal campaign. The animal cruelty inflicted through the liberation of pigs seems also not to have been taken very seriously.
It could really be the case that all defendants will be found not guilty on all charges on 2nd May. However, we don't want to jump the gun and will wait to see what the day brings. There is enough work to keep us occupied and for us at VGT we can't tell you what a relief it is that this monster trial is finally over what ever the outcome!