ER Editor: UPDATE – October 9, 2021 – Kurz steps down as Chancellor to become leader of the Austrian People’s Party (OVP). See from RT, Austria’s Sebastian Kurz steps down as chancellor amid new corruption scandal.
We’re publishing a twofer, first from RT and a more detailed report from Politico.eu.
It’s odd. Sebastian Kurz, as foreign minister in 2016, took 140,000 euros from public money to pay a certain pollster and media source to boost his image while apparently lying about how those funds were being used. Not cool, definitely corrupt, but hardly a hanging offense. Don’t governments do this with the media’s help all the time? And this going back five years. Somebody’s been sitting on this, waiting for the right moment.
Notice the laughable language in the Politico report:
Prosecutors believe chancellor masterminded illegal effort to pay off pollsters and journalists in his rise to power.
The only way a then-31 year old gets into power is if major forces behind the scenes are helping him. (He’s 35 now.)
Which puts us in mind of the sudden resignation of NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian, who has stepped down after being put under a corruption investigation for – wait for it – how she allocated grants to certain community organisations between 2012 and 2018, groups affiliated with someone with whom she was personally involved. See Why Gladys Berejiklian resigned: Everything you need to know about ICAC inquiry into the departing NSW Premier.
Are we going to be seeing more state and federal leaders targeted for relatively minor offenses?
Austria’s Chancellor Kurz & 9 others under investigation for breach of trust, corruption, and bribery after police raids
On Wednesday, anti-corruption prosecutors said that Kurz, members of his party, and several top aides had been put under investigation. The chancellor is one of ten being investigated on suspicion of breach of trust, corruption, and bribery.
According to Austrian media, the prosecutors suspect that the Finance Ministry and Kurz’s conservative People’s Party (OVP) bribed newspaper owner Wolfgang Fellner to positively portray the chancellor in his firm’s publications.
In its statement on Wednesday, the public prosecutor’s office alleged that between 2016 and at least 2018, funds from the Ministry of Finance were used to pay for “party politically motivated and sometimes manipulated surveys” by a polling institute. It also noted that these results were published in the editorial section of an Austrian daily newspaper and other media within the same group.
Mediengruppe Osterreich, Fellner’s publishing house, has already dismissed the accusations, claiming the investigations were based on “grave misunderstandings.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the prosecutors raided the offices of Kurz’s conservative party and two federal ministers, as well as several homes. The evidence found in the course of the searches will now be reviewed and evaluated, investigators said.
There had recently been talk that such searches were likely. OVP deputy general-secretary Gaby Schwarz said last week that “there will be raids,” and “I’m telling you, nothing will be found.”
Austrian authorities raided the offices and party headquarters of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in Vienna on Wednesday amid suspicion that he and his inner circle conspired to embezzle public funds to bribe pollsters and prominent media figures in return for favorable coverage.
The raids marked a significant escalation of prosecutors’ corruption probe into Kurz, who already faces possible indictment in a separate case involving perjury allegations related to sworn testimony he gave before a parliamentary inquiry last year.
Though some opposition leaders called on the conservative chancellor to resign, the head of Kurz’s junior coalition partner, Greens leader Werner Kogler, signaled he would not abandon the alliance as long as it remained “capable of governing.”
Nonetheless, given the gravity of the accusations the chancellor faces — unprecedented in Austria’s democratic history — a sudden collapse of Kurz’s government remains a distinct possibility. It’s clear from court filings published on Wednesday that the prosecutors’ primary target is Kurz, whom they describe as the “central person” in the affair and the primary beneficiary of the alleged criminal behavior.
The leader of the opposition Social Democrats, Pamela Rendi-Wagner, said that if Kurz “had any decency left” he would resign, demanding that he appear before parliament to answer questions about the affair.
Kurz, speaking from the EU’s Western Balkans summit in Slovenia after the raids, dismissed the latest accusations as “manufactured” and predicted, as he has done with previous allegations, that he and his colleagues would be exonerated.
“I’m convinced that these charges will also soon be proved to be false,” he said.
Yet the evidence uncovered by authorities suggests that Kurz’s troubles may only be just beginning.
Corruption prosecutors now suspect the chancellor and his close associates used funds from the conservative-led finance ministry in 2016 while Kurz was foreign minister to pay for manipulated polling data that was subsequently published by Österreich, a Kurz-friendly tabloid, according to a more than 100-page search warrant published by Austrian media.
The ministry’s payments to a local polling firm, totaling €140,000, were allegedly disguised by falsifying invoices that claimed the work concerned “anti-corruption studies.” In return for carrying the polls, Österreich allegedly received lucrative ad campaigns from the finance ministry for hundreds of thousands of euros.
The publishers of Österreich have denied any wrongdoing and said the authorities’ suspicions appeared to be rooted in “serious misunderstandings.”
As with the other recent investigations into Kurz’s circle, prosecutors relied heavily on text message exchanges discovered on the phone of Thomas Schmid, a Kurz confidant who at the time served as general secretary in the finance ministry.
At the time of the activity now under scrutiny, Kurz, then 30, was keen to raise his public standing. The reason: Behind the scenes he and his allies were planning to seize the leadership of his Austrian People’s Party and subsequently trigger new elections — steps they took in mid-2017, leading to Kurz’s ascension as chancellor…
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