Austrian chancellor’s future in doubt over ‘Ibizagate’ lying claim | Austria


The political future of Austria’s high-flying chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, is in question after it emerged that he is being investigated for lying to a parliamentary committee during the “Ibizagate” affair.

In a 58-page criminal investigation cited by Austrian media, the country’s anti-corruption prosecutor alleges Kurz deliberately misled MPs trying to shed light on the entanglement of political and commercial interests highlighted in the 2019 affair involving his former far-right coalition partners.

Kurz, 34, said in the questioning that he was only marginally aware of the process by which his personal ally and party loyalist Thomas Schmid was appointed as director of ÖBAG, the state holding company that controls €28bn (£24bn) in strategic investments on behalf of the government.

But the criminal investigation, triggered by a complaint on behalf of the Neos opposition party, cites text messages that suggest the chancellor took a more active role in the appointment.

Kurz, who denies any wrongdoing, has expressed confidence he will be exonerated.

The chancellor’s agile political manoeuvres and strict stance on immigration has often put him at odds with his German counterpart, Angela Merkel, but many central European conservatives see him as a political role model to emulate. A recent article in Die Welt even speculated he could succeed Ursula von der Leyen as president of the European Commission in 2024.

The investigation, however, which is the country’s first into decisions taken by a chancellor while in office, could curtail Kurz’s stellar career, not only because it can theoretically lead to a prison sentence of up to three years.

Kurz denies accusations that he lied to the parliamentary committee and has already ruled out resigning if the anti-corruption prosecutor decides to charge him in the coming weeks. “Every statement I made is true”, he told the national broadcaster ORF.

The centre-left Social Democratic party (SPÖ), which is in second place behind Kurz’s Austrian People’sparty (ÖVP) in latest polls, has said, however, that an indictment would constitute a red line.

“An acting chancellor who is being charged and faces trial can no longer carry out his duties and has to take the consequences”, said the SPÖ’s leader, Pamela Rendi-Wagner.

The investigation could also embolden Austrian conservatives still harbouring a grudge over the aggressive way in which the youthful chancellor took the reins of the ÖVP in 2017. The former party chair Reinhold Mitterlehner, whom Kurz ousted, has urged the chancellor to step down until the matter is resolved.

If Kurz were to fall from power, it would be the second time hehas been forced out of office in connection to the “Ibiza affair”. . He was ousted in a no-confidence vote in may 2019 after the deputy chancellor and interior minister in his then-coalition government with the far-right Freedom party (FPÖ) had resigned over a secretly filmed sting operation.

The German publications Der Spiegel and Süddeutsche Zeitung had published a video showing the FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache apparently promising public contracts to a woman posing as a Russian backer, in return for help in his election campaign.

Ensuing snap elections saw a collapse in support for the far-right while Kurz managed to reclaim his title as the world’s youngest head of government by entering a coalition with the Green party.



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