In Austria, the Federal Chancellor is being investigated: specifically, it is related to suspicion of dishonesty and bribery. But Sebastian Kurz defends himself against the allegations.
Austrian Chancellor Kurz (ÖVP) is under increasing pressure. The Economic and Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (WKStA) is now investigating a second case against the conservative prime minister. And this time it is about suspected breach of trust, corruption and bribery, the authority announced on Wednesday. Kurz denied the allegations.
“I am convinced that these allegations will soon turn out to be false,” he said. “This time too, there are fake allegations with the same system. Text messages are always taken out of context in order to create a criminal charge out of them.” The 35-year-old is already being investigated over alleged false testimony in a parliamentary inquiry. While the Greens, a partner in the coalition, has backed down for the time being, the opposition is unanimously calling for Kurz to resign.
Several home inspections
According to the prosecutor’s office, nine other defendants and three associations are being investigated in addition to the counsellor, sometimes with various forms of participation. In the context of this, according to the authority, home inspections were carried out in several locations on Wednesday, including individual offices of two ministries. The ÖVP confirmed raids in the Chancellery, party headquarters and the Finance Ministry.
According to the party, those close to and advisers to the chancellor will be affected. According to its own information, the authority is investigating the suspicion that between 2016 and 2018 at least, funds from the Ministry of Finance were used to fund politically motivated and sometimes manipulated polls by the Opinion Research Institute. Kurz served as foreign minister until 2017 before taking over the presidency of the ÖVP in May 2017. In the new elections in October 2017, the People’s Party emerged as the strongest force and Kurz became chancellor.
Van der Bellen: “A serious accident”
According to the Prosecutor’s Office, the results of the survey were published in the editorial department of an Austrian daily and other media belonging to this group – without announcing it as an advertisement. According to the authority, there is a suspicion that government officials in return made payments to the media company as part of media and advertising cooperation. According to WKStA, evidence found during home searches and assessments will now be displayed. No other details were provided.
Federal President Alexander van der Bellen spoke on the sidelines of a festive event. “We witnessed an unusual and very serious incident today,” he said of the raids. He appealed to reflect on the foundations of the rule of law. One of the tasks of the Public Prosecution Office is to investigate suspicions, regardless of people’s reputation, and to search for both incrimination and innocence. For now, you just know there’s an investigation going on, Van der Bellen said.
ÖVP: “The Rin Show”
The ÖVP criticized the raids. “We don’t have an understanding of the home inspections that were carried out today. From our point of view, it’s just show and preparation,” said ÖVP club president August Wojinger. “After the false accusations, which have now turned out to be unfounded, more allegations are being made about the events that took place in part five years ago. This always happens with the same aim and order: to inflict serious damage on the People’s Party and Sebastian Kurz, Deputy Secretary General of the ÖVP,” said ÖVP Deputy Secretary-General Gabe Schwartz.
The coalition partner, the Greens, was hesitant. “We have complete confidence in the judiciary,” said Sigrid Maurer of the Greens club. “They do their job without regard for the people. We will see how it goes.”
According to several dailies, it was advertisements for the daily Österreich. The newspaper denied the allegations. “At no time was there an agreement between Mediengruppe Österreich and the Ministry of Finance regarding payment for surveys through advertising.” All advertising payments are disclosed by the ministry under the Transparency Act.
The opposition wants a private session
Austria’s opposition parties are now pressing for a special session of the National Assembly. In a joint communication from SPÖ, FPÖ and Neos, SPÖ club vice president Jörg Lichtfried was quoted as saying he had to respond briefly in front of Parliament and the public. “We are very suspicious,” said SPÖ leader Pamela Rende Wagner. The special session should be held as soon as possible.
“If the government and the Federal President are also unable to act, Parliament must pull the emergency brake. Given the current developments, the Chancellor’s resignation is inevitable,” said Herbert Kekl, head of the FPÖ party. If Kurz does not take the score alone, the FPÖ wants to file a motion of no confidence. The opposition party also called Neus Kurz to resign.