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Former chancellor on trial as graft scandals rock Austria

Former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Reuters File

Austria’s former chancellor Sebastian Kurz goes on trial this week for allegedly giving false testimony, the highest-profile determine implicated in wide-ranging corruption scandals which have rocked the EU member.

The case marks the primary time in additional than 30 years {that a} former chancellor has stood trial.

As soon as hailed as a “wunderkind” of Europe’s conservatives, Kurz stepped down as chancellor in 2021 following a string of graft accusations, together with spending public cash for beneficial media protection.

It marked the spectacular fall of the charismatic hard-liner, who grew to become the world’s youngest democratically elected head of presidency in 2017 on the age of 31.

Kurz, along with two others, will go on trial on Wednesday for offering false testimony to a parliamentary committee probing quite a few graft allegations.

Kurz, 37, has repeatedly dismissed the accusation levelled towards him, saying he’s eager to show his innocence in courtroom.

“Like many of the (corruption prosecutors’) accusations, this one will turn out to be false,” Kurz stated in an announcement in August.

Each Kurz and his lawyer declined to supply new feedback when contacted by AFP.

He may resist three years in jail if discovered responsible.

‘High risk’

The case is being intently watched not solely due to Kurz, however as a result of prosecutors have up to now did not land convictions linked to the scandals which have rocked the Alpine nation of 9 million folks since 2019.

The present case stems from an announcement Kurz made in 2020 to a parliamentary committee probing corruption.

He’s accused of getting downplayed his affect in appointing the top of a state-run firm.

Chat messages leaked to the media prompt that Kurz mentioned the matter with the official, Thomas Schmid, who in a single message says, “I’m so happy. I love my chancellor.”

Co-accused with Kurz are his former chief of employees Bernhard Bonelli and Bettina Glatz-Kremsner, a former deputy head of Kurz’s conservative Individuals’s Get together (OeVP).

The presiding decide is anticipated to listen to statements from the accused this week after which additional trial dates can be set, in accordance with a courtroom spokeswoman.

Prosecutors have stated they plan to name 18 witnesses, together with Schmid, in addition to Kurz’s former finance minister and different high-profile officers.

About three quarters of circumstances involving false testimony have resulted in convictions, in accordance with justice ministry statistics.

The case poses a “high risk” above all for the prosecution, Austrian every day Kurier journalist Martin Gebhart stated in a commentary.

“They can’t afford to lose another glamorous case — especially not this one,” he added.

Former far-right chief Heinz-Christian Strache, who was vice-chancellor underneath Kurz till 2019, has been acquitted in two separate corruption circumstances.

Return of the far-right

Quite a few probes are nonetheless pending.

In a separate case, prosecutors are investigating Kurz on suspicion of embezzling public funds to pay for polls which have been skewed to spice up his picture and for beneficial protection to assist his political rise.

After leaving politics, Kurz is now concerned in quite a few personal worldwide enterprises.

The graft allegations have additionally had huge implications for Austria’s political panorama.

The OeVP continues to manipulate in a coalition with the Greens, however their approval rankings have plummeted, enjoying into the palms of the far-right Freedom Get together (FPOe).

With a brand new management, the FPOe now has round 30 % assist, in accordance with polls, forward of elections subsequent yr.

The celebration has managed to beat the so-called “Ibizagate” scandal that engulfed it in 2019 and introduced down Kurz’s first authorities.

The scandal concerned a video, filmed secretly on the Spanish resort island of Ibiza, which confirmed then far-right chief Strache providing public contracts to a lady posing as a Russian oligarch’s niece in alternate for marketing campaign assist.



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