Austria president urges reforms after fresh graft revelations


Austria’s president on Thursday called for wide-ranging reforms of the country’s political culture following fresh revelations over a graft scandal, which led then-chancellor Sebastian Kurz to resign last year.

Austrian politics has been rocked by a series of corruption scandals with Kurz’s resignation in 2021 marking a spectacular fall for a politician who had been hailed as the “Wunderkind” of Europe’s conservatives.

In statements to federal prosecutors leaked to media and reported on Tuesday, Thomas Schmid, a former senior official of the Austrian finance ministry and close aide of the ex-chancellor, incriminated Kurz and his conservative People’s Party (OeVP) by accusing them of misappropriating public money to pay for polls, which were skewed to boost Kurz’s image.

“We need a complete overhaul,” President Alexander Van der Bellen said in a televised address on Thursday, alluding to Austria’s political culture being repeatedly tainted by corruption. “A transparent, comprehensible and, above all, perceptible general restructuring… is needed.”

“This is about democracy in our home country and trust in democracy, which is once again being massively shaken,” he added, calling corruption “a paralysing poison”.

According to Van der Bellen, new legislative elections are not justified at the moment. Schmid, himself implicated in the major corruption scandal, had approached federal prosecutors in April, requesting to be a key witness, the state economic crime and corruption prosecutor (WKStA) said on Tuesday. Since June, Schmid has been interrogated for “15 full days” by the federal prosecutors, they said.

According to the testimony, Kurz allegedly knew that the polls aimed at helping him win the OeVP’s chairmanship and the chancellor’s office were funded by the Austrian finance ministry. “Yes, he was aware of that… I only implemented this tool because I received the order from Kurz”, Schmid said referring to the commissioned polls.

“I promoted Kurz and the OeVP through the federal ministry of finance, used the resources of it to support the advancement of the OeVP under Sebastian Kurz,” Schmid added. Schmid alleged Kurz also asked him to make a statement to exonerate Kurz of all blame.

Kurz had countered his former ally’s “false accusations” by supplying to the WKStA a recording of a phone conservation between the two of them. Kurz has announced that he would take legal action against Schmid.

The current scandal erupted in October 2021 when prosecutors ordered raids at the chancellery and the finance ministry while investigating allegations that Kurz’s inner circle used public money to pay for favourable polls.

Prosecutors also suspect that in return for the polls, and fawning coverage of Kurz, tabloid Oesterreich received lucrative public adverts. Kurz resigned in October and left politics in December, with his former interior minister now running the country.__Daily Times