When thinking about crime victims, most people usually think of natural persons who suffered from physical violence. However, when it comes to white collar crime cases, a high number of victims are not natural persons but companies. In these cases, the main goal for the companies is to retrieve lost or damaged assets. Because this goal cannot always be achieved using civil proceedings, Austrian criminal law provides further options for victims in such cases.
Victims and Private Parties
Pursuant to Art 66 StPO,an alleged victim of a criminal act is entitled to file a submission to the Public Prosecutor's Office either requesting the initiation of criminal proceedings or to join pending criminal proceedings as a victim. In such proceedings, the victim has the right to obtain access to the file and to be present at the main criminal court hearing (Hauptverhandlung).
Further, according to section 67 StPO, victims are entitled to claim damages which they suffered within the criminal proceedings and are then considered as private parties (Privatbeteiligte). The law also grants several other procedural rights to private parties. These shall ensure that the private party is able to prove the damages suffered.
Participating in criminal proceedings as a victim or a private party are both possible for individuals as well as legal entities. The formal substantive requirements of such private party joinders are relatively limited makeing them a very inexpensive and efficient tool for private parties claiming to have incurred damages because of a crime. In addition, this is a very efficient way to get access to all the evidence produced by the Public Prosecutor's Office which otherwise would be nearly impossible to achieve (house searches, confiscations, telephone surveillance, etc.) However, the status of a private party will only be granted to a person or legal entity who can plausibly argue to have suffered direct damages from the criminal actions.
In cases where the court finds the accused guilty of committing a crime, it is also obliged to rule on the civil claim of the private parties. The court has two options regarding its decision about the claim of the private party:
1. It can grant the claim if the court is of the opinion that the claim is sufficiently proven.
2. It can refer the claim to the competence of a civil court if it is of the opinion that the claim is not sufficiently proven.
Another advantage of pending criminal proceedings is that the limitation of civil claims raised by private parties is suspended.
Therefore, initiating or joining pending criminal proceedings can bring several possibilities for victims when it comes to reclaiming damages that occurred as a result of a crime.