- Kurz already under investigation separately for perjury
- Conservatives accuse prosecutors of anti-Kurz bias
- Another party in the coalition, the Greens, angered by a claim of bias
- Kurz says he’s sure the accusations will turn out to be false
VIENNA, October 6 (Reuters) – Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has been investigated on suspicion of corruption and breach of trust, anti-corruption prosecutors said on Wednesday after searches of Tory party offices de Kurz and several senior officials.
The investigation, which prosecutors confirmed hours after searches of Kurz’s Chancellery, Finance Ministry and party offices, is a new political threat to Kurz, which anti-corruption prosecutors have separately placed under investigation in May for suspected perjury. Read more
Kurz and his People’s Party (OVP) dismissed the investigation as politically motivated.
The suspicion in this investigation is that, from 2016, when Kurz was foreign minister and sought to become party leader, and later when he became chancellor, the conservative-led finance ministry paid for advertisements in a newspaper in exchange for polls and favorable coverage to him.
“The Office of the Prosecutor for Economic Affairs and Corruption has placed Sebastian Kurz and nine others as well as three organizations under investigation on suspicion of breach of trust … corruption … and bribes … , in part with varying levels of involvement, “the office said in a statement.
The morning raids took place in places such as the homes and chancellery offices of three senior Kurz officials.
“I am convinced that these accusations will also prove to be false,” Kurz said in a brief statement, adding that the SMS exchanges were taken out of context to “build” a case against him.
OVP Vice-President Gaby Schwarz called the raid on her seat a “political staging” aimed at achieving “spectacle effect” to harm both Kurz and the party. The OVP has repeatedly accused anti-corruption prosecutors of bias against him and against him, which the organizations of prosecutors and judges deny.
The reaction revealed tensions within the ruling coalition between Kurz’s conservatives and the left-wing Greens, who campaigned for a “clean policy” and avoided saying how far they would support Kurz if the prosecution of him. were progressing.
“The charge of spectacle politics is meaningless simply because the approval of a judge is required for this instrument, namely to raid as part of an investigation,” said the leader of the Greens and Vice – Chancellor Werner Kogler at a press conference, adding that prosecutors should be able to continue working freely.
The tabloid daily Oesterreich, which Austrian media identified as the newspaper at the center of the investigation, issued a statement on Wednesday denying taking state money for advertising in exchange for publishing a poll .
Without naming the newspaper, prosecutors said they suspected that between 2016 and at least 2018, finance ministry funds paid for partisan and sometimes manipulated polls published in the newspaper, and that some of those doing the subject of an investigation could influence what was reported.
Kurz took over as head of the OVP in May 2017 and led his party to an electoral victory later in the year.
Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel told a press conference that the investigation took place before he took office last year and that he was not a target. Kurz was scheduled to appear on ORF TV’s news at 10:00 p.m. (2000 GMT).
Austria’s three main opposition parties have called for an extraordinary session of the lower house of parliament to address the investigation and called on Kurz to resign.
Reporting by FranÃ§ois Murphy, editing by William Maclean and Giles Elgood
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