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Austrian ex-minister taken into custody over graft scandal

A former government minister and key figure in the corruption scandal which brought down former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has been taken into custody, a court spokeswoman said on Friday.

Austrian ex-minister taken into custody over graft scandal
A photo of Sophie Karmasin during her time as Families Minister in 2015. Photo: APA/SCHERIAU

Former Families’ Minister Sophie Karmasin from the same conservative People’s Party (OeVP) as Kurz, was taken into custody “to prevent further offences”, a spokeswoman for Vienna’s regional criminal court told AFP.

Karmasin, 55, has been implicated in the scandal which led to Kurz stepping down as chancellor in October, before announcing he was leaving politics altogether in December.

It marked a spectacular fall for a politician who had been hailed as the “Wunderkind” of Europe’s conservatives after becoming the world’s youngest democratically elected head of government in 2017 at just 31.

The scandal erupted in October when prosecutors ordered raids at the chancellery and the finance ministry while investigating allegations that Kurz’s inner circle used public money to pay for polls which were skewed to boost Kurz’s image.

Prosecutors also suspect that in return for the polls, and fawning coverage of Kurz, tabloid Oesterreich received lucrative public adverts.

Karmasin, a former opinion researcher, is thought to have commissioned the surveys from a former colleague.

She is also suspected of earning kickbacks for the surveys as well as other offences.

According to recent Austrian media reports, Kurz has taken a job as “global strategist” at the firm founded by billionaire conservative venture capitalist Peter Thiel.

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POLITICS

Austria’s Nehammer formally elected party leader in unanimous vote

The Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer was formally elected leader of the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) on Saturday.

Austria's Nehammer formally elected party leader in unanimous vote

The ÖVP has governed at the federal level in an alliance with the Greens since early 2020 and, at a special federal party conference on Saturday, 100 percent of the delegates voted for the Austrian Chancellor (who has been in office for just over five months now) to be their leader.

READ ALSO: PROFILE: Who is Karl Nehammer, Austria’s new chancellor?

Nehammer’s predecessor Sebastian Kurz had resigned as Chancellor and ÖVP chairman in October 2021 following investigations into suspected corruption. Since then, Nehammer had held the party chairmanship on an interim basis. 

Sebastian Kurz has since completely retired from politics and now works for American investor and billionaire Peter Thiel, who has close ties to former US President Donald Trump.

Prior to the vote, Nehammer gave a speech promoting his election as party chairman: “We are the first servants of this country, and with your help, I will also become the federal party chairman of the People’s Party,” he said.

The heads of the ÖVP traditionally tend to get high results in their first election as chairman. Kurz was elected party leader in 2017 with 98.7 percent of the vote. However, there has never been a 100 percent result in a first-time election until now.

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