Austria opens probe over domestic intelligence scandal

An inquiry opened on Tuesday into government raids on Austria's domestic intelligence agency which have stoked concerns that senior officials could pass Western secrets on to Moscow.

Austria opens probe over domestic intelligence scandal
Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl. Photo: AFP

The parliamentary probe adds to pressure on the country's far-right interior minister amid reports that Western secret services are increasingly wary of sharing information with their EU ally.

Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), which has governed in a coalition since late last year, has a “cooperation pact” with President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party.

Interior Minister Herbert Kickl is from the FPÖ, which also nominated Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl. 

The inquiry is due to open with testimony from two officials of the BVT intelligence agency who complained about the February raids on offices and homes of senior officials.

Also due to appear was an official from the police unit that carried out the raids.

Officially, the operation related to an investigation into allegations of abuse of office.

But unusually, the searches were carried out by a police street crime unit run by an FPÖ official.

Files seized reportedly related to investigations into far-right extremist groups.

Last week, a Vienna court declared some of the raids illegal because prosecutors had failed to explore other avenues to obtain the evidence they were looking for.

Kickl, who as chief strategist masterminded the FPÖ's rise to power, has insisted the raids were above board, and accused the opposition of seeking to score cheap political points by calling for investigations.

Kickl is not due to give his statement to the inquiry until November.

Austria's National Security Council, an oversight body composed of ministers and opposition party representatives, held a closed-door meeting Monday to discuss the BVT affair.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the centre-right People's Party at the helm of the governing coalition, insists that Austria, which holds the EU rotating presidency, sees eye to eye with the bloc when it comes to Russia.

FPÖ-backed Kneissl, however, raised eyebrows by inviting Putin to her wedding last month. Images of the two of them dancing circulated widely.


Austria Chancellor facing investigation over ‘false statement’ to MPs

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced Wednesday that prosecutors had started investigating him after the opposition accused him of making false statements to a parliamentary committee on corruption.

Austria Chancellor facing investigation over 'false statement' to MPs
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Image: Joe Klamar/AFP

“I wish to inform you that… prosecutors have opened an investigation against the head of my office,” Bernhard Bonelli, “and against me”, Kurz told reporters before a cabinet meeting.

Kurz denied any wrongdoing, saying: “I always answered all (the committee’s) questions truthfully.”

He said the investigation would have no impact on his work and that he would not resign.

The investigation comes after the opposition Social Democrats (SPOe) and NEOS parties accused Kurz of not telling truth in front of the committee of MPs, who are investigating the fallout from the so-called “Ibizagate” scandal that brought down Kurz’s previous government in 2019.

READ MORE: Alleged mastermind in Austria’s ‘Ibiza-gate’ video arrested in Berlin

Kurz’s then vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache from the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) had to resign after a video emerged showing him in a luxury villa in Ibiza offering political favours to a woman he thought was a Russian oligarch’s niece, in exchange for financial support.

The parliamentary committee looking into the scandal has since broadened its focus to include other accusations of wrongdoing, including by politicians from Kurz’s People’s Party (OeVP).

The latest investigation comes as the OeVP’s party financing and other practices have increasingly come under the spotlight.

In February OeVP Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel’s home was raided as part of a separate probe into possible party financing offences.