Austrian leader Kurz investigated on suspicion of corruption | Corruption News
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is under investigation for allegations that government money was used in a bribery deal to ensure positive coverage in a tabloid newspaper, prosecutors said.
A statement released by prosecutors on Wednesday said raids had been carried out in several locations, including two government departments, as part of the investigation, the latest legal headache for Kurz and his right-wing People’s Party.
Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel confirmed that a raid had taken place in his ministry, and Austrian media reported that the Chancellery was also one of the places targeted.
Prosecutors said Kurz and nine others, as well as three organizations, were under investigation into the case.
The essence of the allegations is that between 2016 and 2018, “finance ministry resources were used to fund partially manipulated opinion polls that served an exclusively political interest,” prosecutors said.
This corresponds to the period in which Kurz took over the leadership of the People’s Party and led him to government leading a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe).
Prosecutors allege that a public media company “received payments” in exchange for publishing the investigations.
The company in question has not been officially named, but has been widely identified in Austrian media as the tabloid Oesterreich.
The group that runs Oesterreich has issued a statement denying any wrongdoing was committed in commissioning or publishing its investigations.
Dominic Kane of Al Jazeera, in a report from Berlin, said that an opinion poll had been published by the newspaper in question, which “presented Mr. Kurz’s party in a very preferential light, and it did not was not broadcast as an advertisement “.
Kane said some people from that newspaper were subsequently appointed to the board of directors of a specific company.
“The suggestion put forward by prosecutors is that federal finance was involved in this – it means government money, which is taxpayer money,” he said.
“It’s the first time [Kurz] found himself personally under investigation for corruption, ”Kane added.
There was no direct reaction from Kurz, who was attending a summit of European Union leaders in Slovenia.
However, other People’s Party politicians have reacted angrily to the raids, with the party’s deputy general secretary Gabriela Schwarz saying they were “for the show” and that “accusations have been built on events dating back to five years”.
People’s Party MP Andreas Hanger went so far as to blame the investigation on “left cells” in the prosecutor’s office.
The latest allegations could strain the party’s coalition with the Green Party, which has already come under pressure from the fallout from a previous scandal.
The 2019 Ibiza-gate affair led to the dramatic collapse of Kurz’s previous government with the Freedom Party.
Investigators have opened corruption investigations after former FPOe chief Heinz-Christian Strache was caught on camera appearing to offer government contracts in return for campaign aid for the FPOe.
Some of them targeted high-ranking People’s Party figures, including Bluemel.
Kurz has also been investigated on suspicion of making false statements to a parliamentary committee on corruption, although he has not been charged.
The main opposition party, the Social Democrats, said Wednesday’s searches showed the People’s Party “the house of cards is collapsing noisily” and criticized Kurz’s party for “discrediting the independent judiciary and attempt to thwart its investigations “.
For now, prominent Green Party politicians have remained wary of the latest allegations, which erupted just days after the government unveiled a carbon tax as part of its flagship “eco-social” overhaul of the tax system.
Vice-Chancellor Werner Kogler told reporters that the raids had no impact on the coalition’s ability to govern.
He objected, however, to the People’s Party characterization of the raids as a spectacle, noting that the warrants would have required the approval of a judge.