Corruption Scandal Pushes Austria Government Into Crisis
Since 2017, the Republic of Austria has been ruled by the Volkspartei of Austria (VPO) ruling in a controversial coalition with the Freedom Party (FPO), a party regarded by many as far right, populist, anti-immigrant and heavily Eurosceptic. However, the government has been caught up in a corruption scandal involving the vice chancellor (HC Strache, leader of the FPO) where he and a colleague were caught on video discussing illegal deals with a woman purporting to be the niece of a wealth Russian businessman.
Within 24 hours of the release of the video, which was recorded in Ibiza in 2017 before the Austrian election which brought the FPO into coalition, Strache had resigned and the following day, the government asked the Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, to agree to a snap general election for September.
The video shows a meeting between Strache, Johann Gudenus (also an FPO politician) and the unidentified “Russian” woman in which she offers to invest in Austria and buy a 50% stake in an Austrian newspaper, the Krone Zeitung, promising to switch its editorial position to become supportive of the FPO. Strache said that he could award he public contracts if she were to “set up a company like Strabag”, a major Austrian civil engineering business, suggesting that “all the government orders that Strabag gets now, you would get”. Strache explained that he wanted to “build a media landscape like Orban”, referring to Hungary’s authoritarian, right wing leader. He went on to promise: "If you take over the Kronen Zeitung three weeks before the election and get us into first place, then we can talk about everything". Strache said that a number of staff journalists critical to the FPO at Krone Zeitung would need to be fired and others, more sympathetic to FPO (evidently) brought in.
Chancellor Kurz (VPO) said he was “shocked” by Strache’s behaviour, describing it as “a wrong approach to politics” – a masterly understatement – which had damaged Austria’s international reputation. He demanded a full investigation, suggesting that the video’s content could have legal ramifications, concluding: “Anything illegal must be clarified”.
Following moves to dismiss the FPO’s Herbert Kickl, who serves as the Interior Minister, all of the FPO ministers serving in the coalition has resigned. There will be a vote of no confidence in Mr Kurz held later today.