Austrian prosecutors hit back at PM’s criticisms
Austrian prosecutors and judges hit back Wednesday at criticism of the justice system by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, days after one of his ministers had his house searched as part of a corruption probe.
On Monday, Kurz told a press conference that there were “many failings” in the way anti-corruption prosecutors had gone about investigating Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel and said there was “an urgent need for change” within the body.
Last week, Bluemel’s house was searched as part of a probe into possible illegal financing of his and Kurz’s centre-right People’s Party (OeVP) by the gambling giant Novomatic.
Bluemel and the party vehemently deny any wrongdoing.
“These blanket allegations by the chancellor have caused indignation,” the president of the Austrian prosecutors’ association, Cornelia Koller, told the Der Standard daily.
Sabine Matejka, the head of the judges’ association, also told the paper that Kurz’s “accusation of wrongdoing is totally inappropriate and is to be rejected”.
“That one branch of the state should smear another in this way is not something one would expect in a country like Austria,” she added.
Also on Wednesday, the OeVP’s parliamentary group wrote to the justice ministry to demand explanations for the search of Bluemel’s house.
Since Kurz entered into a coalition with the Green party in early 2020, the Greens have run the justice ministry.
Prior to that, it had been led by OeVP politicians since 2008.
Matejka said that while anyone under investigation had the right to have prosecutors’ actions scrutinised, “that is the job of independent courts, not politicians”.
The opposition Social Democrats (SPOe) said Kurz’s “attacks on the justice system were dangerous for democracy” and that the actions of OeVP politicians revealed “attitudes towards the rule of law and the separation of powers that should set alarm bells ringing among all democrats”.