Austria’s Kurz, Inner Circle Ensnared in Corruption Probe
(Bloomberg) -- Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and members of his inner circle were implicated in a sprawling corruption investigation that threatens to open a new chapter of political turbulence in the Alpine nation.
Offices at Kurz’s Chancellery and several other locations were raided on Wednesday, according to an emailed statement by anti-corruption prosecutors.
The 35-year-old leader of Austria’s conservative People’s Party and others are under investigation for their alleged role in funneling federal funds to a newspaper publisher to orchestrate his rise in government, according to a separate 106-page legal document seen by Bloomberg, which summarizes the investigation and was filed with a criminal court in Vienna.
Kurz rejected the allegations, and said they were falsely constructed by taking text messages out of context, the chancellor said in an emailed statement.
It’s the second investigation to involve Kurz within the last year. Last month, a judge questioned the chancellor about the veracity of statements he provided to parliamentary investigators looking into the collapse of his previous government. During five hours of questioning, Kurz said that any allegations of perjury were baseless.
Prosecutors are now probing messages shared between Kurz, his chief strategist and media advisers, according to the recently filed document seen by Bloomberg. The communications occurred from 2016, when Kurz was Austria’s foreign minister, and allegedly detail how polling data and stories were strategically placed in newspapers to facilitate his rise to power.
Austria’s opposition parties called for an extraordinary parliamentary session in response to the prosecutor’s investigation while warning Kurz’s party not to interfere with the judiciary.
“Nothing like this has ever happened before,” said Joerg Leichtfried, a senior Social Democrat in parliament.
In their court filing, prosecutors said evidence suggested Kurz knowingly collaborated in efforts to plant political advertising camouflaged as poll data.
“Sebastian Kurz is the central figure: all criminal actions are primarily done to further his interests,” read the document.
Since rising to power as Europe’s youngest head of government in 2017, Kurz’s administrations have been dogged by a string of controversies.
His first government with the country’s far-right populists disintegrated in 2019 after a lurid video shot on the Spanish island of Ibiza showed his coalition partner offering government contracts to a woman posing as a Russian oligarch’s niece. Subsequent parliamentary probes zeroed in on job postings and political favors.
The latest allegation “hits at the base” of Kurz’s current coalition with Austria’s Green Party, said Thomas Hofer, a political analyst and consultant in Vienna.
“Message control is one thing,” he said. “But if those allegations are true, this was not only manipulating the media, but also misleading the public.”
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