By Michael Shields
VIENNA (Reuters) - Prosecutors indicted former Austrian Interior Minister Ernst Strasser for corruption on Thursday over a cash-for-influence scandal exposed last year by undercover British journalists.
Strasser, 56, stepped down as member of the European Parliament in March 2011 after acknowledging accepting an offer of money from a reporter - posing as a lobbyist - to put forward amendments to a law.
Strasser said at the time he suspected a hoax and that no money had changed hands. He said he resigned to protect the reputation of his conservative Austrian People's Party.
He could not be located immediately for comment but the Austrian Press Agency quoted his attorney, Thomas Kralik, as saying Strasser denied the corruption charge.
The case is one of several corruption scandals that triggered a package of ethics legislation in Austria meant to restore trust in public officials before elections next year.
The special team of prosecutors that handles high-profile corruption cases filed bribery charges with a Vienna court after a 15-month investigation that spanned five countries, in which investigators questioned 90 people and inspected bank accounts.
If convicted, the man who served as Austria's interior minister from 2000 to 2004 faces up to 10 years in jail.
"The defendant is suspected in 2010 of having demanded an annual advisory fee of 100,000 euros ($123,600) from two supposed lobbyists - in fact they were British newspaper journalists - to influence legislation in the European Parliament," prosecutors said in a statement.
Many members of the European Parliament keep close ties or even employment with industry during their time as legislators, a practice that critics say poses conflicts of interest.
In the secretly videotaped exchange with the journalist from The Sunday Times, Strasser is seen saying his commercial clients pay him 100,000 euros a year. He says he already has five clients and is going after a sixth.
"Of course I'm a lobbyist, yes, and I'm open for that," he says in the video, warning that lobbyists have a "special smell" and have to be very careful to go unnoticed.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
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