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Stephan’s Crime
Stephan was convicted of serious fraud, committed against the Republic of Austria in the amount of €550,000,
under sections 146 and 147 of the Austrian Criminal Code.1
Applicable Law – Restitution not Inheritance
On 24 October 2000, Austria and the United States signed the Washington Agreement, whereby Austria agreed
to introduce restitution procedures for art, property and money stolen during the time of the Nazi regime in
This Agreement provided for the setting up of the ‘General Settlement Fund’ Law which established the General
Settlement Fund for Victims of National Socialism and an Arbitration Panel for the review of claims for In Rem
Restitution of property.3
The Arbitration Panel established their own Rules of Procedure 4 to govern the application and appraisal process.
Among other things, it provided for relaxed standards of proof, was designed for the lay person to be able to
navigate the restitution process, and expressly excluded any legal liability of the State, noting it was an ‘act of
Crucially, the Panel’s only responsibility and only power was to decide upon those applications submitted to
them. They did not actively seek out potential beneficiaries; they did not write to specific people to tell them to
apply. This is made abundantly clear in their own judgments.
In Rem Restitution - Overview
The In Rem restitution process was designed to work, and did work, as follows: If a particular property fit the
criteria (i.e. was ‘taken’ between March 1938 – May 1945, had been stolen or forcibly sold by the owners and
was public property as of January 2001), then it would be advertised for restitution for a period, usually of two
During that time, if potential heirs came forward and proved their lineage to the original owner the Arbitration
Panel would make a recommendation to the Federal Ministry of the Economy, Family Affairs and Youth that
they should receive a proportion of the property. The Federal Ministry would decide how to proportion the
property based on the degree of relation to the original owner.
Inevitably, due to the passage of time, the potential beneficiaries to any given property could number in the
hundreds. However, the Arbitration Panel did not wait until all or even a majority had come forward, nor did it
seek out individuals to inform them of the possibility of applying. The process was a voluntary one which
needed pro-active input from potential heirs.
This is why it is legally wrong to say that Stephan’s aunt was ‘entitled’ to a proportion of the property, or that it
was her ‘inheritance’. In contrast to probate law, restitution law does not imply any rights to property simply by
virtue of being a relation of the original owner.
Further, it is not right to say that Stephan ever prevented his aunt from receiving ‘her’ share. She lives in Vienna,
knew of the existence of the property and could have applied herself to the Arbitration Panel. She did not do so
in time, therefore she was not considered by the Arbitration Panel, and therefore the Ministry did not include her
when dividing the property.
Finally, the State did not bring this case on behalf of Stephan’s aunt. Instead it argued that the Republic itself
was damaged and accordingly, every statement by the Republic of Austria and its representatives citing
Stephan’s aunt as the ‘victim’ of his crime is quite simply false.


Austrian Criminal Code, Sections 146 and 147 [German],!
Washington Agreement 2001,
General Settlement Fund Law,
Rules of Procedure of the Arbitration Panel, see in particular ss 6,8, 15,16,18,20