Scandal threatens to end Kurz’s second term as Austrian chancellor

“What’s mainly important,” acknowledged Sebastian Kurz as he threw his scandal-plagued far-right coalition companions out of office in 2019, “is the idea of abuse of vitality, the idea of [misusing] taxpayers’ money, and naturally, the [manipulation of] the media panorama in our nation.” 

Barely two years later, the Austrian chancellor is the central suspect in an alleged conspiracy involving the equivalent political malpractice.

On Wednesday, police raided ministries all through Vienna and the headquarters of Kurz’s conservative Of us’s Celebration, triggering a political catastrophe that has engulfed the Austrian authorities and now threatens it with collapse.

Prosecutors are investigating whether or not or not Kurz and a bunch of allies used fake invoices to illicitly channel €1.2m of taxpayers’ money from the finance ministry to pay for helpful media safety. Glowing headlines helped propel Kurz, from abroad minister to celebration chief to the chancellorship itself.

No costs have been made throughout the investigation.

Nonetheless the scope of the suspicions and the proof that has been made public threaten to hold Kurz’s second time interval in office to an far more abrupt and controversial halt than his first.

Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz speaks to the media after a meeting with Austria’s President at Hofburg Palace in Vienna on October 7,
Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s chancellor, speaks to the media: the chancellor has pledged to battle the allegations © Herbert Neubauer/APA/AFP by means of Getty Photographs

Two years previously it was Kurz himself who pulled the plug, after his vice-chancellor, Heinz-Christian Strache, of the Freedom Celebration, was filmed soliciting Russian influence throughout the Austrian media. Now, it’s Austria’s Greens — Kurz’s new junior coalition partners — who may end his chancellorship. With out them, the federal authorities doesn’t command a majority in parliament.

Kurz was once seen as a wunderkind of European politics, whose combination of youth, gloss and opportunism offered a model for various moribund conservative occasions all through the continent. Nonetheless his image has now been tarnished.

“I’ve obtained no idea what the approved consequence goes to be, nevertheless by means of his image, of his full politics, that’s really unhealthy information,” acknowledged Thomas Hofer, an Austrian political information. “Chances are you’ll sense the nervousness. It’s beginning to look like a theme.” 

Kurz’s ascent in Austrian politics had been excellent for its velocity.

He turned a state secretary in 2011, having made a popularity for himself as a excellent voice throughout the celebration’s youth movement. Inside two years, on the age of 27, he was Austria’s youngest ever abroad minister and already talked of as a future chief of the Of us’s Celebration. In Might 2017, he took over the chairmanship. That December, after an election by way of which help for the Of us’s Celebration surged due to his hardline anti-immigration platform, he was appointed chancellor for the first time.

The investigation launched by Austria’s central state prosecutor for monetary crimes and corruption (WKStA) this week, presents one other historic previous.

Its 104-page warrant, printed by Austrian newspapers, accommodates dozens of textual content material messages and communications between Kurz and key celebration allies in 2016 and 2017. They embody a sequence of exchanges between Kurz and Thomas Schmid, the general secretary throughout the finance ministry. Schmid’s cellphone was seized in November 2019 as part of a separate corruption investigation.

Schmid, an in depth confidant of Kurz, was a central decide in what was dubbed “Enterprise Ballhausplatz” by Kurz’s circle — a reference to the seat of the chancellorship, and the trouble to get Kurz into it.

Demonstrators hold up flags and banners during a protest against Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in front of the People’s Party (OeVP) headquarters on October 07, 2021
Demonstrators exterior the Of us’s Celebration headquarters on Thursday. It was raided by police the previous day © Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty Photographs

The WKStA says it believes Schmid used his place throughout the finance ministry to divert federal funds to place adverts throughout the Österreich regular of newspapers and on-line publications managed by the media entrepreneurs Helmuth and Wolfgang Fellner. In change, they allegedly printed opinion polls, commissioned and “dressed up” by Schmid, that mirrored Kurz in a constructive light and helped steer his occupation.

“I’ve in no way really gone as far as we now have,” Schmid wrote in 2018 in a textual content material message to Johannes Frischmann, who’s now Kurz’s press spokesperson: “Ingenious funding. And [Wolfgang] Fellner is a capitalist . . . Whoever pays [gets to] create. I like that.” 

The utilization of taxpayers money, estimated at €1.2m, was disguised with fake invoices for consultancy work for the ministry, the WKStA believes.

Using public funds was important for Kurz’s advertising marketing campaign on account of as abroad minister he had no entry to celebration finance and little or no have an effect on all through the celebration to simple his approach to the very best, the prosecutor’s warrant alleges. “Schmid continuously reported to Kurz on all developments and progress,” it gives.

“Thanks for Österreich for the time being,” Kurz wrote to Schmid in January 2017. “Always at your service :-)),” Schmid replied.

The WKStA acknowledged it was investigating 26 opinion polls apparently linked to Schmid and printed on Österreich platforms, which lined points ranging from the unpopularity of former Of us’s Celebration boss Reinhold Mitterlehner (sooner than Kurz took over from him) to the popularity of a Kurz coalition with the far correct.

Schmid and the Fellners have denied wrongdoing. Österreich acknowledged in a press launch that the WKStA’s allegations have been primarily based totally on “important misunderstandings”. 

It acknowledged it had been paid far a lot much less for adverts by the ministry of finance than claimed throughout the WKStA warrant and disputed any deal existed with Schmid or others.

“At no time was there an settlement . . . to pay for surveys by the use of commercials. The reality is, all selling funds made by the ministry of finance are disclosed by the Transparency Act,” the group added.

For Kurz, and the rest of the Of us’s Celebration administration, the allegations are an outrage that the chancellor has pledged to battle “with all my could”.

The WKStA, he believes, is pursuing a nakedly political agenda to try to unseat him. The messages which had been utilized in its warrant, he instructed state TV channel ORF, had been cherry-picked and launched with out context.

On Friday, in an apparent response, the WKStA launched 500 pages of proof, along with dozens additional textual content material messages. Politicians, journalists and spin-doctors from all through the political spectrum have been poring by the use of them for extra revelations.

Austria’s parliament is due to convene on Tuesday, when a possible motion of no confidence could very effectively be taken to unseat the federal authorities.

Kurz’s supporters have, throughout the meantime, rallied to him. He’s nonetheless, by far, probably the most well-liked different for the chancellorship amongst Austrians. And the Of us’s Celebration stays the chief throughout the polls by a big margin. When Kurz’s first authorities resulted in calamity, the snap election that adopted returned him to power with a good larger share of the vote. material materials/feb5de5f-e6a6-48fc-ba30-fcfd1fb54081 | Scandal threatens to complete Kurz’s second time interval as Austrian chancellor

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