March 30, 2023

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Sebastian Kurz resigns corruption investigation begins in Austria

Sebastian Kurz has said he will fight the charges against him

Austrian Chancellor (Prime Minister), Sebastian Kurz, resigned from his post after pressure on him over a corruption scandal.

He suggested that Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg should replace him.

Kurz and nine others were investigated after raids on several websites linked to his conservative Austrian People’s Party.

The chancellor denies allegations that he used government funds to secure positive coverage in a tabloid.

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

The Greens began talks with opposition parties that were threatening to hold a vote of no-confidence against Kurz next week.

Green Party leader and Vice-Chancellor Werner Kugler welcomed Kurz’s resignation. He indicated that he would be willing to work with Schallenberg, saying the relationship between them was “very constructive”.

In announcing his resignation, Kurz said: “What is needed now is stability. To overcome the impasse, I want to step down to prevent chaos,” noting that he will remain the leader of his party and will continue to exercise his role as a member of Parliament.

“First of all, I will of course take the opportunity to refute the allegations against me,” he added.

Bethany Bell Analysis

BBC correspondent in Vienna

Although no longer a chancellor, Kurz would remain a key figure in Austrian politics.

He will be present in cabinet meetings as a leader of his party. The head of the opposition Social Democrats said he would take charge as shadow adviser.

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

Some members of Kurz’s party hope his resignation will be temporary and that he will be able to return to the post.

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

Kurz became leader of the Austrian People’s Party in May 2017 and led his party to an election victory later that year to become, at the age of 31, one of the world’s youngest democratically elected heads of government.

The allegations of corruption relate to the period between 2016 and 2018, when it was suspected that Ministry of Finance funds had been used to manipulate opinion polls in favor of the Austrian People’s Party which were then published in a newspaper.

While the name of any newspaper was not disclosed by the plaintiff, the daily Austria issued a statement on Wednesday denying media reports that it took taxpayers’ money in exchange for the publication of positive opinion polls.

Kurz, nine other individuals and three organizations, have been placed under investigation “on suspicion of breach of trust…corruption…and bribery…partly with various levels of involvement,” the Attorney General’s Office for Economic Affairs and Corruption said Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, prosecutors carried out raids on the chancellery, the Ministry of Finance and the homes and offices of senior aides to the chancellor.

Kurz described the allegations against him as “baseless”.

He also denied wrongdoing in a separate investigation he was subjected to in May over allegations that he had made false statements before a parliamentary committee.