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Austria far-right leader targeted in embezzlement investigation

AFP
AFP - [email protected]
Austria far-right leader targeted in embezzlement investigation
The leader of the FPÖ and former Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl waves the Austrian flag as he arrives on stage to address supporters at an election rally of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPOe) in Vienna. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Prosecutors said Monday they had launched an investigation into Austria's far-right leader and several former government members on suspicion of embezzling public money to pay for adverts in return for alleged favourable coverage.

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Prosecutors said the investigation into several former government members for alleged bribery, corruption, and breach of trust was opened in mid-April.

Herbert Kickl, the hardline leader of Austria's right-wing Freedom Party (FPOe)—currently leading polls ahead of elections expected in September—is suspected of commissioning adverts and paying for them with public money.

The alleged embezzlement occurred between January 2018 and May 2019, when Kickl was Austria's acting interior minister.

Prosecutors suspect that in exchange for allegedly promising favourable media coverage of the FPOe, a major tabloid received lucrative adverts.

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The former government members, including Kickl, are alleged to "have commissioned... adverts and had them paid from public funds," the state economic crime and corruption prosecutor (WKStA) said in a statement.

Austria's former vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and his former deputy Norbert Hofer are also being probed.

According to APA news agency, the FPOe dismissed the investigation, saying it was "relaxed" about the probe and "one hundred percent convinced" that it would be closed.

In late 2021, a major media graft scandal erupted in the Alpine country. Austria's former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his inner circle were accused of using public funds to pay for polls skewed to boost his image.

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