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SEBASTIAN KURZ

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.

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CORRUPTION

Austrian officials fire back after Kurz criticism

Austrian prosecutors and judges hit back Wednesday at criticism of the justice system by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, days after one of his ministers had his house searched as part of a corruption probe.

Austrian officials fire back after Kurz criticism
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

On Monday, Kurz told a press conference that there were “many failings” in the way anti-corruption prosecutors had gone about investigating Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel and said there was “an urgent need for change” within the body.

Austrian minister's home raided in casino corruption probe 

Last week, Bluemel's house was searched as part of a probe into possible illegal financing of his and Kurz's centre-right People's Party (OeVP) by the gambling giant Novomatic.

Bluemel and the party vehemently deny any wrongdoing.

“These blanket allegations by the chancellor have caused indignation,” the president of the Austrian prosecutors' association, Cornelia Koller, told the Der Standard daily.

Sabine Matejka, the head of the judges' association, also told the paper that Kurz's “accusation of wrongdoing is totally inappropriate and is to be rejected”.

“That one branch of the state should smear another in this way is not something one would expect in a country like Austria,” she added.

Also on Wednesday, the OeVP's parliamentary group wrote to the justice ministry to demand explanations for the reason for the search of Bluemel's house.

Since Kurz entered into a coalition with the Green party in early 2020, the Greens have run the justice ministry. Prior to that, it had been led by OeVP politicians since 2008.

Matejka said that while anyone under investigation had the right to have prosecutors' actions scrutinised, “that is the job of independent courts, not politicians”.

The opposition Social Democrats (SPOe) said Kurz's “attacks on the justice system were dangerous for democracy” and that the actions of OeVP politicians revealed “attitudes towards the rule of law and the separation of powers that should set alarm bells ringing among all democrats”.

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