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Austria ex-leader Sebastian Kurz presents himself as victim at trial

AFP
AFP - [email protected]
Austria ex-leader Sebastian Kurz presents himself as victim at trial
Austria's former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz had defended the benefit cuts. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

Austria's former chancellor Sebastian Kurz told a court Friday he was the victim of a selective prosecution and an opposition out to "destroy him", defending himself against accusations of having given false testimony.

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Kurz, 37, denies having lied to a 2020 parliamentary inquiry probing a series of corruption scandals that have rocked the Alpine EU member since 2019. The charismatic conservative hardliner -- who shot to power in 2017,
becoming chancellor at age 31 -- stepped down in 2021 following a string of graft allegations.

Testifying in court Friday, Kurz accused prosecutors of having misinterpreted his answers to the 2020 inquiry, and of having submitted selected pieces of evidence to paint a skewed picture. He also felt prosecutors were not treating him under the principle that "everyone is equal before the law", he said.

Describing the atmosphere in the aftermath of the 2019 so-called "Ibizagate" graft scandal, he said: "The goal was to implicate an ever increasing number of politicians" for corruption.

The opposition "wanted to destroy me", he added, insisting he had answered questions put to him at the inquiry despite being under pressure. "Fear shaped my formulations...," he said. "I was afraid" that his words could be turned against him, he said.

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Disputed chat messages

The former chancellor is accused of having downplayed his influence in appointing the head of a state-owned company. Kurz insisted that while he had been informed about the appointment, he did not decide on it, dismissing prosecutors' suggestions that he had sought to control everything.

Some of his chat messages cited in court suggested that Kurz had discussed the appointment with the official, Thomas Schmid.

In one such message, read out in court, 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."

Kurz denied those messages showed he had decided on Schmid's appointment.

If convicted, Kurz could face up to three years in jail. It is not clear yet how soon the trial can wrap up, as the judge has said he wants to hear from several witnesses, including Schmid himself.

It is the first time in more than 30 years that a former chancellor has stood trial. Kurz -- once hailed as a "wunderkind" of Europe's conservatives -- is the highest-profile figure implicated in a series of scandals.

In a separate case, prosecutors are investigating him on suspicion of having embezzled public money to fund polls skewed to boost his image, and to pay for favourable coverage to help his political rise.

Prosecutors have so far failed to land any convictions since a video emerged in 2019 showing Kurz's then-vice chancellor of the far-right party offering public contracts to a purported Russian investor for campaign help.

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