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Austria: ÖVP insider testifies in the corruption committee

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The Ibiza affair about possible corruption was exposed in 2019. With a time lag, the ÖVP is now in its deepest crisis – ex-Chancellor Kurz now has to fear the appearance of a former confidant.

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A former close confidant of Austria’s ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz will be questioned for the first time by the ÖVP corruption committee of the Austrian Parliament on Thursday. The former head of the state holding Öbag, Thomas Schmid, is considered a key figure in the affair about advertisements for the ÖVP, which were allegedly paid for with tax money from the Ministry of Finance.

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Schmid recently told the public prosecutor’s office that Kurz was actively involved in a deal about embellished opinion polls financed with taxpayers’ money. In addition, the 47-year-old accused other politicians from the conservative Chancellor’s Party and entrepreneurs of illegally assigning posts and intervening in tax matters. In short, against whom the judiciary is investigating for breach of trust and bribery, and the other accused reject the allegations or remain silent.

Whatsapp chats arouse mistrust

Schmid had been invited several times by the parliamentarians to provide information. So far he had always asked for apologies. The fact that he broke his silence with the public prosecutor’s office could now make him a key witness. In the course of corruption investigations, which were triggered by a video shot covertly in Ibiza, in which the then right-wing leader of the FPÖ, Heinz-Christian Strache, gave the impression of being for sale, Schmid’s mobile phone was also seized in autumn 2019.

The Öbag boss at the time had reset the mobile phone to factory settings and deleted Whatsapp and other messages. However, more than 300,000 chat messages could be restored from the cloud storage and from an external hard drive.

“lust for power” instead of “concerns, morals and ethical principles”

From the opposition’s point of view, the chats paint a scandalous picture. Kurz and his team, as well as the conservative ÖVP, tried to increase their influence illegally, according to the criticism. “For power lust, concerns, morality and ethical principles were thrown overboard – among the country’s political elite, among millionaires and billionaires, among media managers,” wrote the news magazine “News”.

If Schmid were to repeat the statements he made to the judiciary in the U-Committee, it would be “a further step in the dismantling of the ex-chancellor,” says political advisor Thomas Hofer.

The ÖVP, spoiled by power, has lost popularity. In the case of new elections, according to a survey by the Institute for Demoscopy and Data Analysis (IFDD), it would only get around 20 percent of the votes – and would thus be behind the social democratic SPÖ and the FPÖ.

Source: Stern

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