Austria’s chancellor named as suspect in corruption probe

Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz has been named by prosecutors as a suspect in an investigation into grand corruption that threatens to carry down the nation’s coalition authorities.

Police raided ministries and political workplaces throughout Vienna on Wednesday.

A warrant issued by the state prosecutor for financial crime and corruption, a replica of which was seen by the Monetary Instances, cited Kurz as a suspect beneath suspicion of abetting bribery and perjury.

5 different senior officers near Kurz are additionally named within the warrant. Not one of the people named have been formally charged within the investigation.

Austrian police officers stand outside the chancellory in Vienna
Austrian cops stand exterior the chancellery in Vienna © Leonhard Foeger/Reuters

The probe centres on whether or not pretend invoices have been generated on the finance ministry as a way to direct €1.2m of presidency funding to pro-Kurz media retailers between 2016 and 2017, throughout Kurz’s tenure as Austrian international minister. On the time Kurz was positioning himself to take over the management of the mainstream conservative Austrian Individuals’s get together.

Each the Central State Prosecutor for Financial Crime and Corruption (WKStA) and Kurz’s spokesperson declined to touch upon Wednesday.

In a press release, the Individuals’s get together stated the investigation was “politically motivated” and “staged for present”.

Occasion deputy normal secretary and MP Gaby Schwarz stated she was “surprised and speechless” on the WKStA’s actions. “[It is] all the time the identical aim and system: to massively harm the Individuals’s get together and Sebastian Kurz,” she stated.

This week, senior Individuals’s get together officers stated the WKStA was run by “leftist cells” who have been unabashedly pursuing a political agenda to compromise the chancellor.

Earlier this yr Kurz promised to reform Austria’s prosecutorial system and criticised the WKStA for its incompetence and poor document in profitable instances in courtroom.

Police raids, ordered by the WKStA, happened on Wednesday on the federal chancellery, the headquarters of Kurz’s ruling Individuals’s get together, and the finance ministry, two sources acquainted with the WKStA investigation advised the FT.

“There has by no means been an investigation right into a chancellor like this in Austria’s postwar historical past,” stated Austrian political analyst Marcus How at VE Perception. “After all, Kurz continues to be only a suspect and hasn’t been charged however the query might be whether or not, even with this as an open investigation, the Inexperienced get together will [want] to uphold the federal government.”

The Individuals’s get together has dominated in coalition with Austria’s Greens for the reason that starting of 2020.

The chancellor’s earlier authorities, a coalition with the rightwing populist Freedom get together, collapsed in 2019 after a corruption scandal. Freedom get together chief, and vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache was filmed on the island of Ibiza soliciting Russian assist for his get together in trade for guarantees of presidency favours.

Kurz’s relationship with the Greens has already been beneath pressure.

A separate and ongoing investigation into Kurz for allegedly perjuring himself in entrance of an official parliamentary investigation, has been a sticking level in coalition relations this yr.

The WKStA’s new investigation is way extra severe, nonetheless, analysts stated.

The allegations in its 104-page warrant appear “concrete” based on the outstanding Austrian political guide Thomas Hofer.

“Utilizing the ministry of finance and the communications division there to generate pretend invoices . . . that is completely loopy if it’s true. It’s actually taking the issues going through Kurz to a different stage,” Hofer stated.

“I believe that if there’s something on this — and we’re principally speaking about kickbacks right here — then it’s one thing I believe the Greens will hardly be capable to swallow.”

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