Corruption probe triggers coalition crisis in Austria

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Corruption

A corruption probe targeting the office of Austria’s conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has triggered a crisis in his governing coalition with the Greens.

“We cannot go back to business as usual, the chancellor’s ability to act is in question,” Greens lawmaker and Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler said in a statement on Thursday.

Anti-corruption investigators seeking materials for a probe on Wednesday searched the offices of Kurz and his ruling conservative Austrian People’s Party (OeVP) as well as the Ministry of Finance and a media house.

According to the Economic and Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (WKSTA), there are indications that, from April 2016 onwards, funds from the Ministry of Finance were used to publish “exclusively party-politically motivated, sometimes manipulated polls by an opinion research company” in the interest of Kurz, who was then foreign minister.

“It is devastating,” Kogler said. The Greens leader announced talks with all parties in parliament and with Austria President Alexander Van der Bellen.

Van der Bellen will meet the heads of all parliamentary parties on Thursday and Friday, the Presidential Chancellery told the Austrian news agency APA.

The meetings will start on Thursday afternoon with Kogler and Kurz. Later, Social Democrats leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner is to join Van der Bellen.

On Friday, the head of the liberal Neos party, Beate Meinl-Reisinger, and the far-right FPOe leader, Herbert Kickl will follow.

“We have to work together for stability and clarification, and that is why I would like to discuss the further course of action cross-party,” Greens leader Kogler said.

Meinl-Reisinger on Thursday called for a new start for the country. “It can’t go on like this,” the Neos party leader said, adding the country needs a clean government and new elections were not necessary for this.

The day before, the opposition parties in parliament – Neos, the Social Democrats and FPOe – had demanded Kurz’s resignation.

Meinl-Reisinger said Kurz was harming the country with his refusal to resign. “There is a clear incapacity of Kurz to hold office,” the Neos leader continued.

Kurz on Wednesday said any suspicion of corruption related to his rise to power is unfounded.

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