Austria to hold snap election after vice chancellor resigns in ‘corruption video scandal’

Leader of anti-immigrant party quits over footage of him offering state contracts in return for support

Jane Dalton
Saturday 18 May 2019 20:00 BST
Heinz-Christian Strache said he was quitting after footage of ‘corruption’ was released
Heinz-Christian Strache said he was quitting after footage of ‘corruption’ was released (AP)

The Austrian chancellor has called for an early election after the resignation of his vice chancellor in a scandal involving claims of corruption.

Vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache stepped down after two German publications showed video of him apparently offering government contracts to a purported Russian investor.

The video from 2017 showed him discussing the state contracts in return for favours from a woman posing as a Russian oligarch’s niece.

Some commentators say it has revived questions over Russian influence in the European Union.

The scandal spelled an end to Austria’s governing coalition led by Sebastian Kurz, of the centre-right People’s Party.

Mr Kurz said he could not reach an agreement with the leadership of Mr Strache’s anti-immigrant Freedom Party on carrying forward the coalition.

The Freedom Party, one of a number of anti-immigrant nationalist parties to have scored electoral success in Europe in recent years, has been the junior partner in Mr Kurz’s coalition for 18 months.

Mr Strache said he was leaving his posts as vice chancellor and Freedom Party chief over the video, but denied breaking any laws.

He claimed he was illegally set up in a “political assassination” but added his behaviour in the film was “stupid and a mistake”.

He said his replacement would be transport minister Norbert Hofer, who ran for president in 2016, hoping to become the first far-right European head of state since Hitler. He only narrowly lost.

The footage was released days before European parliament elections in which nationalist groups allied to his party are expected to perform well.

Vienna prosecutors said they would study the reports and decide whether there was sufficient cause to open an investigation, a spokesperson said.

Mr Kurz said a possible coalition with the Social Democrats would not permit the Austrian government to carry out its policies of limiting debt and taxes.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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