First arrest made in Austrian government corruption probe

Austrian ex-chancellor Sebastian Kurz
Authorities on Tuesday made their first arrest in the probe that forced Austria's youngest ever chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, out of office. Photo: Alex Halada/AFP
Austrian authorities on Tuesday made the first arrest in the corruption probe that forced chancellor Sebastian Kurz out of his job, with a poll analyst reportedly held on suspicion of destroying evidence.

One of a series of scandals that dogged Kurz’s two successive governments, the latest affair revolves around partially faked opinion polls paid for with taxpayer money and fed to a tabloid to paint Kurz in a favourable light.

The woman arrested on Tuesday is a pollster who authorities said last week was under investigation for corruption. She is suspected of having deleted data from the hard disk of her computer just before a raid, daily Der Standard reported. Prosecutors declined comment to AFP, citing “ongoing investigations”.

Last Wednesday prosecutors raided several locations linked to the ruling People’s Party (ÖVP) over allegations that between 2016 and 2018 money from the finance ministry was used to pay for surveys. Prosecutors say that Kurz and nine other individuals, including the pollster, as well as three organizations, are under investigation over the
affair.

They allege that payments were made to a media company — presumably tabloid Österreich, which was also raided — in return for publishing the polls. 

Kurz has maintained he is innocent, calling all accusations against him “false”. The group that runs the Österreich tabloid also put out a statement denying anything untoward in the commissioning or publication of its surveys.
 
Kurz — who became the world’s youngest democratically elected leader in 2017 at age 31 — stepped down as chancellor on Saturday, naming his close ally Alexander Schallenberg as successor.

Schallenberg was sworn in as chancellor on Monday as the ÖVP tries to overcome the corruption probe.

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