Wednesday, December 8

Austrian leader Kurz struggles to stay amid bribery allegations

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz received backing from his conservative People’s Party on Thursday after anti-corruption prosecutors said he is a target in a bribery investigation.

All party ministers said in a written statement that they would resign if Kurz is overthrown.

Kurz denied any wrongdoing and made it clear that he did not plan to resign.

However, Kurz’s coalition government partner party said on Thursday the investigation created a “disastrous” impression and raised questions about the chancellor’s “ability to act.”

Prosecutors said Wednesday they were investigating Kurz, nine other individuals and three unidentified organizations on suspicion of breach of trust and bribery. They searched the chancellery, the Ministry of Finance and the offices of the conservative Kurz Austrian People’s Party.

The case centers on allegations that money from the Finance Ministry was used between 2016 and at least 2018 to pay for rigged surveys that were favorable to Kurz and published in a newspaper without being declared as advertising.

Kurz became his party leader and then chancellor in 2017 after having served as Austrian foreign minister.

In another case, anti-corruption authorities placed the 35-year-old foreign minister under investigation in May on suspicion of making false statements to a parliamentary commission, an accusation it also rejected.

Kurz, in an interview Wednesday night with the public television network ORF, denied responsibility for any wrongdoing related to the published polls.

“There is absolutely no indication that I directed what announcements or surveys were commissioned at the Finance Ministry,” he said. He said his text messages do not contain instructions or requests, “and at the same time, prosecutors expose the theory.” that everything is run by Kurz. “

The chancellor said he was “very calm” with the accusations.

“What I can’t understand is why I’m always supposed to be to blame for all the bad deeds,” he said. “Let us examine whether these accusations against the employees of the Ministry of Finance are true. With the best will in the world, I can’t imagine it. “

When asked if he would remain chancellor in light of the investigations, Kurz replied: “Yes, of course.”

The Green Party, a junior partner in Kurz’s coalition since he won a second term in early 2020, was much less relaxed. Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler, who also leads the Greens, tweeted that “the impression is disastrous” and the allegations need to be fully clarified.

“The chancellor’s ability to act is in question in this context,” Kogler said. “We must guarantee stability and order.”

He said the Greens were proposing talks with all the other parties in the Austrian parliament to discuss how to proceed. President Alexander Van der Bellen scheduled meetings for Thursday and Friday with Kogler, Kurz and opposition leaders.

Kurz noted Thursday that his party won the last two elections and said he “supports” the government he formed with the Greens, praising their cooperation during the coronavirus pandemic.

“If the Greens do not want to continue this cooperation any longer and want to seek other majorities in parliament, then that has to be accepted,” he said. “We are prepared to continue working together.”

Kurz’s first coalition with the far-right Freedom Party collapsed in 2019. The chancellor went offline after a video surfaced showing the leader of the Freedom Party at the time, Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, who appeared to be offering favors to a supposed Russian investor.

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