Austria’s leader resigns amid a corruption investigation

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Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Photo: AFP

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has resigned in the aftermath of a corruption scandal.

As a replacement, he has proposed Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg.

Kurz and nine others were arrested following raids on a number of locations associated with his conservative VP People’s Party.

He denies using government funds to secure favourable coverage in a tabloid newspaper.

The allegations this week pushed his coalition government to the brink of collapse, after the Greens, the coalition’s junior partner, said Kurz was no longer fit to be chancellor.

The Greens began talks with opposition parties, who were threatening to bring a vote of no confidence against the chancellor next week.

Greens leader and Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler welcomed Kurz’s resignation and indicated he would be willing to work with Schallenberg, saying they had a “very constructive” relationship.

“What’s required now is stability. To resolve the impasse I want to step aside to prevent chaos,” Kurz said as he announced his resignation.

He said he would remain leader of his party, and continue to sit in parliament.

“First and foremost, however, I will of course use the opportunity to disprove the allegations against me,” he added.

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Analysis, by BBC correspondent Bethany Bell

Although he is no longer chancellor, Kurz will still be a major figure in Austrian politics.

As leader of his party, he will be present at cabinet meetings. The head of the opposition Social Democrats says he will be pulling the strings as a shadow chancellor.

Other observers point to his close relationship with Schallenberg, a career diplomat who worked with Kurz when he first entered government as foreign minister.

Some members of Kurz’s party are hoping his resignation will be temporary and that he will be able to stage a comeback.

Other Austrians say that the two corruption investigations, and the collapse of his last coalition government with the far-right Freedom Party in 2019, mean that it is time for Kurz to leave politics altogether.

Investigators look into nine others and organisations

Kurz became leader of the ÖVP in May 2017 and led his party to victory in elections later that year – becoming, at the age of 31, one the world’s youngest ever democratically-elected heads of government.

The corruption allegations relate to the period between 2016 and 2018, when finance ministry funds were suspected to have been used to manipulate opinion polls in favour of the ÖVP that were then published in a newspaper.

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While no newspaper was named by prosecutors, the tabloid daily Oesterreich put out a statement on Wednesday denying media reports it had taken taxpayers’ money for advertising in exchange for publishing the favourable polls.

Kurz, nine other individuals, and three organisations, have been placed under investigation “on suspicion of breach of trust … corruption … and bribery … partly with different levels of involvement,” the Prosecutors’ Office for Economic Affairs and Corruption said in a statement on Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, prosecutors carried out raids at the chancellery, the finance ministry and homes and offices of senior aides to the chancellor.

Kurz has called the allegations against him “baseless”.

He also denies wrongdoing in a separate investigation he was placed under in May over allegations that he made false statements to a parliamentary commission.

BBC

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