Ex-leader of Austrian far right charged with corruption

The former head of Austria's far right party, Heinz-Christian Strache who rose to vice-chancellor, has been charged with corruption, prosecutors said Thursday, following the "Ibizagate" scandal that brought down the ruling coalition.

Ex-leader of Austrian far right charged with corruption
Heinz-Christian Strache. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

Strache retired from politics after a video emerged showing him in Ibiza offering political favours in exchange for financial support.

He is accused of “receiving advantages” for his “support to modify legislation” and enable a cosmetic surgery clinic to join the country’s social security system, the prosecutors’ statement said.

In 2019, Austria’s government of Conservatives and the far right Freedom Party (FPOe) collapsed after the video, filmed secretly on the Spanish holiday island two years earlier, was leaked to the media.

The video had been shot when Strache was running for election, but he had become vice-chancellor by the time it was leaked and that proved devastating, sparking a police investigation.

Strache’s mobile phone revealed that he intervened when in office in 2018 to have the cosmetic surgery clinic put into the health system.

Strache faces up to five years in prison if found guilty. The clinic’s owner has also been charged, media reports said, linked to a 10,000-euro ($12,000) donation to the FPOe.

He had invited Strache aboard his yacht and told a parliamentary committee that the politician also spent four days at his holiday home on the Greek island of Corfu in 2016.

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Austria takes issue with UN migration pact

Austria expressed reservations this week about a United Nations migration pact that is set to be adopted in December but has come under fire from EU members hostile to immigration, such as Hungary and Poland.

Austria takes issue with UN migration pact
Heinz-Christian Strache (left), picture here with Italy's deputy PM Matteo Salvini, said parts of the UN pact were "diametrically opposed" to Austria's policy's. Photo: AFP

“There are a couple of points diametrically opposed to our government programme,” said Austria's Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, head of the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) that currently shares power with the centre-right People's Party (ÖVP).

The Global Compact for Migration, whose final text was backed by UN member states in July after 18 months of negotiations, pledges to boost cooperation in addressing the world's growing flows of migrants.

Without detailing exactly which aspects of the document Vienna took issue with, Strache insisted that migration was an area over which every country should be able to decide “with full autonomy and sovereignty.” 

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, of the centre-right ÖVP, said there were aspects of the pact that “placed an obligation on the host countries that we regard highly critically.” 

He did not specify whether Austria intends to vote against the non-binding pact, the first international document on managing migration.

It is set to be adopted during a conference in Morocco on December 10-11. 

Hungary's anti-immigration prime minister Viktor Orban said in July that Budapest would boycott the pact because it was “dangerous for the world and Hungary” and would “inspire millions to set out on the road”.

In Warsaw on Tuesday, the Polish interior ministry said it would vote against the pact as it risked “encouraging illegal migration.” 

In December, the United States said it was quitting negotiations on the pact because of provisions “inconsistent with US immigration and refugee policies”. 

Vienna said Austria and Switzerland were in the process of drawing up a joint position on the matter.

A number of opposition politicians in Austria have condemned a stance that they say aligns Vienna with the “reactionary states in the east.” 

The UN pact lays out 23 objectives to open up legal migration and better manage flows of people as the number on the move worldwide has increased to 250 million, or three percent of the world's population.