Serious allegations against Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
The Austrian Public Prosecutor’s Office charges him with infidelity, bribery and corruption. Kurz and his team allegedly used criminal tactics on their way to power in the party and the state.
Investigators arrived on Wednesday to secure the materials at the Chancellery, ÖVP headquarters, the Finance Ministry and a media company. They have been searching for emails since the beginning of 2016 as well as data carriers, servers, cell phones, and laptops. The closest circle around Kurz – such as the press spokesman, his media advisor and chief strategist – has been affected. Rumors of an imminent raid have been circulating for days.
Kurtz dismissed the suspicion of corruption. “I am convinced that these allegations will soon be over,” said conservative politician (ÖVP) broadcaster ORF. He accused investigators of taking the chat messages out of context or distorting them. “And then a criminal charge is created around it.” Looking at the home inspections, Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen spoke of a very unusual and dangerous operation.
Investigators’ justification for the 104-page search is difficult. The wording was published by online investigative portal Zackzack – which is behind former Green Leader and former National Assembly member Peter Beals.
The document raises suspicions that Kurz was involved in a deal with an Austrian media company. According to the prosecution, from April 2016 onwards, as the then Secretary of State, he was involved in influencing editorial content with taxpayer-funded advertisements. Surveys are said to have played a central role, their timing, questions and evaluation being influenced by Kurz’s team.
The ÖVP party and the media company vehemently denied the allegations.
The media group declared: “At no time was there an agreement between ÖSTERREICH Media Group and the Ministry of Finance regarding the payment of surveys through advertisements.”
ÖVP Deputy Secretary-General Gabriela Schwartz spoke out in a letter of false accusations. “It always happens with the same goal and order: to inflict massive damage on the People’s Party and Sebastian Kurz,” she said. The investigators seem to want to “show the effect”.
The leader of the ÖVP’s parliamentary group, August Vogginger, declared resistance. “We will oppose this with all our might at the political and legal levels,” he added.
According to the Prosecutor’s Office, the money over 1 million euros was supposed to flow from the budget of the Ministry of Finance when Kurz sought to take over the ÖVP. In 2017, he won a power struggle against the hopelessly inferior ÖVP leader Reinhold Mitterleiner, and in December 2017 became an advisor to the right-wing ÖVP and FPÖ alliance.
Even after that, the cooperation between the Chancellery and the media company had to continue. “I didn’t really go as far as we did. Great investment. (…) Whoever pays creates. I like it,” according to the investigation documents, said in a short chat message from a close friend of the Ministry of Finance, after placing the requested report again. On the same day, Kurz is said to have thanked the sender: “Thank you for Austria today!”
Is the government crisis coming now?
The government crisis now seems almost inevitable. The Green Party, as the ÖVP’s partner in the coalition since January 2020, has always emphasized that only “clean politics” can be done with them. The alliance of the ÖVP and the Green Party has recently been repeatedly burdened by the ÖVP’s allegations against the judiciary.
Vice Chancellor and Green Party leader Werner Kogler said on Wednesday that “attacks on the judiciary as a whole must be rejected”. The editor-in-chief of “Falter” magazine, Florian Klink, wrote on Twitter: “After a first quick reading of this home search warrant and the chats it included, one can say with confidence: This is no longer possible with the alliance between the ÖVP and the Greens. Game over.”