(JTA) – Stephan Templ, a critic of Austria’s handling of Jewish property, was released from prison after serving eight months following his controversial conviction for fraud on his mother’s application for restitution.
Templ, 56, left Austria for his home in Prague in the Czech Republic shortly after his release Friday, in self exile over his conviction, which he said was false and designed as payback for his critical writings about Austria. In an interview Tuesday, he vowed to fight to have his conviction annulled based on new evidence.
The Austrian Supreme Court sentenced Templ in 2014 to one year in jail for defrauding the state by omitting the name of his aunt from an application for restitution he filled out for his mother. But the new evidence shows he named the aunt several times in restitution-related documents received by authorities.
The Anti-Defamation League and 75 Holocaust scholars implored Austrian authorities to avoid jailing Templ, noting the decision to do so seems connected to his 2001 book, “Our Vienna,” in which he criticized failures in offering restitution for property stolen from Jews by Austrians and Germans during World War II.
“It was a fabricated trial with trumped-up charges, full of lies,” he said.
Throughout the trial, which generated considerable media attention, Templ’s defense was based on the absence of laws requiring applicants to list all relatives, and the argument that Austria could not have been the victim of any fraud as it never legally owned the property it returned. Templ is represented by the human rights attorney Robert Amsterdam, who took the case pro bono.
During his imprisonment, Templ obtained evidence that he did in fact name his aunt on at least six applications, which Austrian authorities confirmed they had received. But the evidence was ignored.
Austrian authorities made conflicting statements about Templ’s case, including a 2014 written statement by a senior state attorney that the state has no claims against Templ.
Stuart Eizenstat, a former U.S. deputy secretary of the Treasury who helped set up Austria’s restitution system, spoke out against the conviction.
“This case should have been a civil matter between the Templs [Stephen Templ and his mother] and the sister,” Eizenstat told JTA in 2014. The conviction, he added, was “almost inexplicable.”
Templ said he has moved to the Czech Republic out of protest against what he said is “a great injustice” done to him by Austria.
“I don’t want to live in a place that stole my freedom for no legitimate reason,” he said.