They were once close allies, but when the alleged corruption scandal claiming former chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his inner circle bribed Austrian media to publish polls favouring him came out, things went sour.
Thomas Schmid, the former Secretary General in the Ministry of Finance, wants to become a key witness and work on a plea deal with authorities, several Austrian media reported. He could implicate former chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who was a person of interest in corruption investigations in Austria.
On Tuesday evening, the first details of Schmid’s 15-day conversations with prosecutors came out. The politician alleged that when the first information about the so-called “poll scandal”, the allegations that a group of ÖVP politicians inside the Ministry of Finance bribed newspaper Oe24 to publish manipulated polls benefiting Kurz, came out, the former chancellor asked him to take all the blame.
Schmid said that the former chancellor, who resigned after the scandal while still denying his involvement, knew and was a part of the scheme.
“A conversation with Kurz was the starting point for me. For me, it was an order from the next boss, and I was full of drive”, Schmid said on setting up the bribery scheme, according to excerpts of the minutes published by the public broadcaster ORF. Kurz’s lawyer Werner Suppan denied the statements.
The former Secretary General is also said to have spoken on several other corruption scandals that mainly affected the ÖVP (which is still the party in power with chancellor Karl Nehammer).
Statements are ‘no surprise’
On Facebook, Kurz said that Thomas Schmid’s states were “no surprise” for him. “He is attempting to gain witness status by filing charges against others, including me, so that he can walk free.”, the former chancellor said. Kurz denies the allegations.
“The accusation that I have committed a crime with an opinion researcher whom I have never met in my life and who has personally stated not knowing me is absurd for many reasons.”, he said.
Kurz also said that the accusations that he used the budget from the Ministry of Finance because he had no other financial means for an opinion poll made no sense. The former chancellor explained that he had access to millions of euros in funds from different sources, including the Foreign Ministry, where he was minister, the Political Academy, and even party funds.
“What sense would it make for me to embezzle a few thousand euros per year in the Ministry of Finance?” he said.
Kurz added: “I look forward to proving these allegations are false”.
What are the investigations?
Prosecutors are investigating accusations that Kurz’s inner circle used public money to pay for polls skewed to boost his image. They also suspect that in return for running the surveys, and other fawning coverage of Kurz, an influential tabloid, Oesterreich, received lucrative public adverts.
The offences were allegedly committed to helping Kurz, already a government minister at the beginning of the period in question, take over the leadership of the ÖVP.
At the time the accusations came out in 2021, Kurz initially insisted there was no reason for him to resign. However, he eventually said he would put the country before his own interests until finally leaving politics altogether.
The former chancellor has continued to protest his innocence.
As investigations expanded with the apprehension of cellphones and findings of possibly incriminating text messages, the scope of the allegations and the number of suspects increased.
Schmid is said to have spoken with the authorities about a series of alleged corruption cases. In order to close a plea deal, he needs to present the prosecutors with facts and information they don’t already know.