Austrian ex-chancellor Kurz dismisses new graft claims

Austrian ex-chancellor Sebastian Kurz on Friday dismissed the latest allegations against him as "fictious," a day after prosecutors raided a tabloid on suspicion of corruption.

Austrian ex-chancellor Kurz dismisses new graft claims
Austria's former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz speaks to the media as he arrives to meet Austria's President at Hofburg Palace in Vienna on October 7, 2021. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Kurz — once hailed as a “wunderkind” of Europe’s conservatives — resigned from the top post in 2021 amid a string of wide-ranging corruption scandals.

Investigators on Thursday raided the Vienna office of free-of-charge tabloid Heute on suspicion it published flattering articles in exchange for public adverts.

Kurz and several others are being investigated on suspicion of corruption, prosecutors said in a statement late Thursday. The Heute raid is reportedly based on extensive testimony given by Thomas Schmid, a former finance ministry official and Kurz ally.

BACKGROUND: Austria’s Sebastian Kurz implicated by former ally in corruption scandal

Schmid, who is seeking to be a witness in the case, told prosecutors that Kurz knew of the embezzlement of public funds between 2016 and 2018 in order to promote his rise, according to media leaks.

“The statements by Thomas Schmid that incriminate me are fictitious,” Kurz said on Facebook, accusing Schmid of trying “to obtain witness status by making allegations against others and so avoid punishment himself”.

Heute publisher Eva Dichand has also dismissed the claim she “would have agreed to positive coverage in exchange for advertisements” as “false”. Another tabloid, Oesterreich, is also suspected of having published rigged polls in favour of Kurz in exchange for lucrative public adverts.

READ ALSO: ‘Reforms needed urgently’: Is Austria becoming more corrupt?

Kurz, 36, is also already under investigation over providing false testimony to a parliamentary committee probing graft allegations. 

Austrian politics has been rocked by a string of graft scandals that already brought down Kurz’s first government with the far-right. Though Kurz has resigned, his People’s Party (OeVP) remains in power, currently governing with the Greens.

Kurz is now involved in numerous private international enterprises, including launching a cybersecurity company with the ex-head of Israel’s NSO Group, which makes controversial Pegasus spyware.

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Austria’s SPÖ party announces Babler as leader after vote mix-up

Austria's biggest opposition party, the centre-left SPÖ confirmed Andreas Babler as its new chairman on Monday after initially announcing Hans Peter Doskozil had won the race to lead the party.

Austria's SPÖ party announces Babler as leader after vote mix-up

Austria’s centre-left SPÖ party backtracked on their announcement that Burgenland governor Hans Peter Doskozil would be their new chairman and instead, announced on Monday that Andreas Babler, a mayor in Lower Austria was the new party leader.

Head of the election commission Michaela Grubesa said that “due to a technical error, the votes were assigned incorrectly at the party conference.”

Hans Peter Doskozil received 280 votes (46.51 per cent), while Andreas Babler got 317 votes (52.66 per cent), the SPÖ said.

“Andreas Babler was thus elected the new party chairman by the extraordinary federal party conference”, it added.

On Saturday, the SPÖ initially announced Burgenland governor Hans Peter Doskozil as its new head. The governor went to give several interviews as the party leader over the weekend and was set to disclose his new team.

Austrian Media said an error occurred when transferring the handwritten ballots to an Excel list. ORF journalist Martin Thür was the first to notice that the ballot numbers were not adding up. An SPÖ statement had said there were 596 valid votes, 316 for Doskozil and 279 for Babler. However, that would add up to 595. 

The “missing vote” prompted a complete recount and result change. The SPÖ said a new congress and vote would not be called and would be “unnecessary”, according to Grubesa. 

In a statement, Doskozil said he accepted the new results and would work with the party and with Babler and close his “chapter” of federal politics. Meanwhile, Babler said that the mistake was “painful” for all those involved and he wants to work on the “complete comeback” of the SPÖ. 

Babler added the voting commission would review the results once again so that there are “no question marks” regarding the elections.