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Austrian chancellor Kurz probed over lying to MPs

Published on May 12, 2021

Austria’s Sebastian Kurz said Wednesday that he was being investigated over possible false statements to a parliamentary committee probing corruption, in the latest headache for the conservative chancellor.

“I wish to inform you that… prosecutors have opened an investigation against the head of my office,” Bernhard Bonelli, “and against me”, Kurz told reporters before a cabinet meeting.

Kurz denied any wrongdoing, saying: “I always answered all (the committee’s) questions truthfully.”

Prosecutors confirmed in an email to AFP that the investigation had been opened after several complaints were made to them.

The offence of lying under oath carries a prison term of up to three years.

Opposition parties responded to Wednesday’s news by calling Kurz’s position into question, but the 34-year-old insisted the investigation would have no impact on his work and that he would not resign.

The investigation comes after the opposition Social Democrats (SPOe) and NEOS parties accused Kurz of not telling truth in front of the committee of MPs, who are investigating the fallout from the so-called “Ibizagate” scandal that brought down Kurz’s previous government in 2019.

Kurz’s then vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache from the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) had to resign after a video emerged showing him in a luxury villa in Ibiza offering favours to a woman he thought was a Russian oligarch’s niece, in exchange for election campaign support.

The parliamentary committee looking into the scandal has since broadened its focus to include other accusations of wrongdoing, including by politicians from Kurz’s People’s Party (OeVP).

– ‘You get everything you want’ –

The investigation announced on Wednesday is linked to statements Kurz gave to the committee last year, in which he denied having had any influence over the appointment of the head of the OeBAG state holding company, Thomas Schmid.

However, in recent months text messages between Kurz and Schmid have come to light appearing to suggest that the two men did indeed discuss Schmid’s appointment and the filling of OeBAG’s advisory board.

In one of them Kurz wrote to Schmid: “You get everything you want”, adding several “kiss” emoticons, to which Schmid replied: “I’m so happy :-))) I love my chancellor”.

Kurz said on Wednesday that he had been well aware that he was answering the parliamentary committee’s questions under oath and had replied truthfully.

He said it was difficult to “remember every single date, every single conversation, every part of every sentence” with “things you thought weren’t important at the time”.

The latest investigation comes as the OeVP’s party financing and other practices have increasingly come under the spotlight.

In February, the home of OeVP finance minister and Kurz ally Gernot Bluemel was raided as part of a separate probe into possible party financing offences.

At the time Kurz publicly criticised that raid and suggested changes were needed with the way prosecutors operated.

That provoked an outcry from sections of the judiciary and accusations of a lack of respect for the rule of law.