Former Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz has been charged with perjury. If convicted, he could face up to three years in prison.
The Economic and Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (WKStA) announced that the 36-year-old is accused of perjury in relation to statements he made in June 2020 during the Ibiza investigation of the Austrian Parliament.
The Ibiza affair was a political scandal involving Heinz-Christian Strache, Austria’s former vice chancellor and leader of the Freedom Party, as well its former deputy leader Johann Gudenus, who were filmed discussing their party’s underhanded practices and intentions in 2019.
Kurz is specifically alleged to have downplayed his own role in the appointment of the head of the state holding company Öbag, Thomas Schmid. Based on chat messages, the prosecution alleges that the former leader was deeply involved in the matter, despite Kurz claiming he was only being informed about the decision in advance.
Kurz and Schmid had reportedly exchanged messages on the topic regularly, at least from mid-2017 onwards.
According to the Vienna Court for Criminal Matters, the trial is set to begin on October 18.
Alongside Kurz, former Chief of Staff Bernhard Bonelli and former CEO of Casinos Austria Bettina Glatz-Kremsner are also charged.
Kurz has consistently and vehemently denied the charges. “The accusations are false, and we look forward to finally bringing the truth to light and demonstrating in court that these allegations are baseless,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
Die Vorwürfe sind falsch und wir freuen uns darauf, wenn nun endlich die Wahrheit ans Licht kommt und sich die Anschuldigungen auch vor Gericht als haltlos herausstellen. (3/3)
— Sebastian Kurz (@sebastiankurz) August 18, 2023
In addition to dismissing the allegations, Kurz also criticised the WKStA’s approach: “What is remarkable and not harmless in terms of the rule of law, however, is that the media are again being informed about the status of the proceedings before those involved.”
The WKStA has been investigating Kurz since the spring of 2021 following a report by the Social Democratic SPÖ and the liberal NEOS parties over suspicions of perjury.
Kurz might also be facing charges in the so-called “advertising affair”. This pertains to allegedly manipulated surveys and government advertisements in tabloid newspapers that it is suspected were paid for with taxpayers’ money. In short, he is accused of spending public money for favourable media coverage.
Several individuals are also under investigation for alleged embezzlement, bribery, and corruption. Kurz also denies the allegations in this case.
The former leader of the ÖVP was once highly regarded as a “wunderkind” among the centre-Right across Europe. He rose to the top fast but fell from grace even faster.
From 2017 to 2019, Kurz led a coalition of ÖVP and the Right-wing FPÖ. From 2020 to 2021, he was the head of a coalition between ÖVP and the Greens. But, amid a raft of scandals, he departed politics altogether and has since become an entrepreneur and lobbyist.
The trigger for all the investigations was the Ibiza scandal. In the secretly recorded video on the holiday island, Strache appeared susceptible to corruption stemming from Russia, among other things. As a result, the coalition between ÖVP and FPÖ collapsed in 2019.