The Austrian judiciary is investigating Chancellor Sebastian Kurz for possible false testimony before a parliamentary committee into a sting operation that toppled a previous government.
The investigation, initiated by opposition parties, increase the pressure on Kurz and his conservative OeVP party in a political scandal that stretches back two years.
In connection with the committee of inquiry, Finance Minister and Kurz confidant Gernot Bluemel has already been the focus of the public prosecutor’s office for months.
A spokesperson for the Public Prosecutor’s Office for Economic Affairs and Corruption confirmed to dpa on Wednesday that investigations are under way against Kurz as well as against his head of Cabinet, Bernhard Bonelli.
Several complaints had been received in this matter, among others from the political party NEOS – The New Austria and Liberal Forum, the spokesperson said.
The parliamentary committee of inquiry is investigating alleged trading in political posts and the possible influence of party donations on political decisions during the time of the previous government, which was made up of Kurz’s Austrian People’s Party (OeVP) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe).
The covert video sting shows former FPOe leader Heinz-Christian Strache in a villa on the Spanish island of Ibiza in 2017 talking with a woman posing as a wealthy Russian donor about political funding, and about ways to gain control over Austrian media and infrastructure.
When German media made the video public in May 2019, Strache stepped down as vice-chancellor, and Kurz ended their coalition.
According to the NEOS complaint, which was made available to dpa, the chancellor and his head of Cabinet had denied in committee that there had been political collusion in the appointment of Kurz confidant Thomas Schmid as head of the state holding company OeBAG. According to NEOS, however, the public prosecutor’s office has chat transcripts that prove the opposite.
Kurz said he is not thinking of resigning, even in the event of a conviction, the chancellor told journalists: “Honestly, I cannot imagine that with the best effort in the world.”
He said he had always tried to answer the questions in parliament truthfully. He criticized the fact that in the committee of inquiry attempts were made to twist words around in people’s mouths and to “somehow force them into giving false testimony.”
The Social Democratic SPOe called on Kurz to resign if he were to be indicted. “An accused chancellor can no longer hold office and must draw the consequences,” said SPOe lawmaker Joerg Leichtfried.
The opposition also accused the OeVP of obstructing the work of the committee of enquiry through false statements and other tactics.
Finance Minister Bluemel had delivered requested files to parliament only last week, after President Alexander Van der Bellen and the Constitutional Court had put pressure on him.
In addition, Bluemel is being investigated for possible corruption surrounding the gambling company Novomatic. Bluemel has denied the accusations.
Kurz also resisted for weeks to deliver e-mails from the Chancellery to the investigating committee.
On Wednesday, however, the Constitutional Court announced that “the complete email inboxes of the Federal Chancellor” from the end of 2017 to the end of 2019 must go to parliament.