‘Ibizagate’: What you need to know about the Austrian political corruption scandal

The 'Ibizagate' political scandal is still shaking up Austrian politics three years after it broke. Here is what you need to know about it.

'Ibizagate': What you need to know about the Austrian political corruption scandal
Austria's former Vice-Chancellor and disgraced former leader of Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) Heinz-Christian Strache gives his private statement in Vienna, Austria. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

The Ibiza scandal – nicknamed Ibizagate by Austrian media – can be traced back to a meeting in 2017 on the Spanish resort island of Ibiza between Strache, then leader of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), and a woman posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch.

Strache was filmed promising the woman state contracts in exchange for helping his party to campaign for elections on an anti-migration, anti-Islam plank.

Strache also discussed the possibility of the woman buying Austria’s most-read tabloid, Kronen Zeitung, and making its editorial line more pro-FPOe.

He did not know the meeting was a sting and that he was being filmed.

The video surfaced in German media in May 2019 and led to the collapse of a coalition government composed of the FPOe and the centre-right People’s Party (OeVP) of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

What charges have been brought? 

Strache claimed in the video that several high-profile billionaires, as well as international gambling company Novomatic, had funded political parties through illegal donations to associations.

All those named by Strache deny any wrongdoing. Strache attributed what he said in the video to intoxication and claimed he may have been drugged.

So far only Julian Hessenthaler, a private detective who helped orchestrate the video, has been arrested, based on drug-related offences for which he faces 15 years in prison.

However, a judicial investigation launched after the video was released led to the seizure of mobile phones belonging to Strache and several other politicians, which opened the way for no fewer than 12 separate probes into allegations of wrongdoing.

The trial revolves around charges that Strache offered to change a law to help an FPOe donor friend of his secure public funding for his private hospital – Strache was found guilty years later.

READ ALSO: Former Austrian vice chancellor convicted over corruption

What is the crrent fallout? 

One of the investigations focuses on alleged ties between Novomatic and senior political figures. The most high-profile target is OeVP Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel, a close confidant and ally of Kurz.

It is looking into possible payments made by Novomatic to the OeVP in return for “help… with tax liability that the business was facing abroad”, according to prosecutors.

Bluemel attracted ridicule when investigators raided his home in February, right as his partner took his laptop out for a stroll with the couple’s baby.

Bluemel and Novomatic deny any wrongdoing – the Finance Minister later resigned his position, saying he wanted to go into private sector and spend time with his family.

The fall of the chancellor

Kurz and Bluemel have both also hit the headlines for allegedly helping civil servant Thomas Schmid clinch a lucrative post as head of OeBAG, a company that administers the Austrian state’s holdings in various companies.

In leaked chat messages referring to the process of setting up OeBAG, Kurz wrote to Schmid: “You get everything you want,” adding several “kiss” emojis, to which Schmid replied: “I’m so happy :-))) I love my chancellor.”

Investigators have also since discovered chats suggesting that Schmid helped write the specifications for the job he applied for.

READ ALSO: Profile: Austria’s ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, the one-time ‘Wunderkind’

Kurz is also under investigation for making false statements to a parliamentary committee over the affair, an offence that can carry a prison sentence of three years. He was also implicated in an investigation over whether or not he, with the help of the Finance Ministry, bribed Austrian media to publish positive polls before his election.

After pressure from coalition partners, and the opposition, he resigned as chancellor and, weeks later, left politics altogether

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EXPLAINED: Who will be Tyrol’s new governor?

The Austrian state of Tyrol held elections over the weekend with historical results, especially for the leading ÖVP party. So who will be its new governor?

EXPLAINED: Who will be Tyrol's new governor?

The western Austrian state of Tyrol is a stronghold for the centre-right party ÖVP, which also leads the governing coalition in the federal government. On Sunday, Austrian citizens went to the polls for the state parliament elections, forming new legislation – and putting their support on their favourite candidates.

Even though the ÖVP got most of the votes, it is far from getting a majority and will need to enter into a coalition to rule. The party got 34.71 percent of the votes, down by 9.55 percentage points from the previous elections and a significant setback for the blacks. However, this gives them 14 seats in parliament.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How do Austrians elect their chancellor?

The centre-left SPÖ ended with 17.48 percent of the votes – just 0.23 percentage points higher than the last vote in 2018, getting seven seats. On the other hand, the far-right FPÖ got a major victory, upping their results by 3.31 percentage points and reaching 18.84 percent, guaranteeing seven seats in parliament.

The Grüne ended with 9.20 percent (three seats), Fritz with 9.90 percent (three seats), Neos with 6.28 percent (two seats), MFG with 2.78 percent, KPÖ with 0.67 percent and Mach mit with 0.13 percent.

How does the election process work?

Tyrol, much like the Austrian federal government, has a parliamentary system. This means voters will choose the parties they want to have seats in the state parliament. So, for example, ÖVP will get about a third of the seats in the house.

The parties need a minimum percentage of votes to get representation in the parliament. Even though MFG, KPÖ and Mach Mit got votes, they have failed to elect representatives and gain seats in the state parliament.

READ ALSO: Austrian presidential elections: What exactly does the president do?

After the parliament is elected, its members then choose a governor. In practice, since the parties already run with a suggested government candidate, people who vote for them also know which person they elect for the executive position.

In the case of ÖVP, Anton Mattle, the 59-year-old career politician, was the party’s choice for the top state job. Had the party won more than 50 percent of the votes, they would be able to elect Mattle, the new governor, without discussing it with other parties.

But, since it didn’t, the ÖVP now will start talks with other parties looking to form a majority government and elect Mattle – plus ensure that by having a clear majority in the state parliament, they will be able to pass legislation.

What coalitions are possible?

Technically, any coalitions between two or more parties that lead to a majority in the state legislature are possible, even those without ÖVP. However, since the centre-right party got the most votes, it traditionally receives the right to try and form a government first.

Experts believe the most likely scenario is for a major coalition between the blacks and the reds, meaning the ÖVP and the SPÖ. They would have to discuss their main government proposals, the distribution of executive positions and other points to see if an ÖVP-SPÖ government is possible.

READ ALSO: Austrian presidential elections: Why 1.4 million people can’t vote

An ÖVP-FPÖ coalition could also technically have a majority, but Mattle had already rejected the idea of an agreement with only the far-right.

Additionally, ÖVP could look into a three-way coalition, bringing, for example, the Grüne and Fritz to the government.

So who will be the next governor?

It is most likely that Anton Mattle, from the ÖVP, will get the job. The only question is who his party will be ruling with.

He told Austrian media that the exploratory talks for a coalition agreement would start in the coming days.

READ ALSO: Austrian presidential elections: Who are the seven candidates?