AP International

Former Austrian leader Kurz charged with giving false evidence to a corruption inquiry

BERLIN (AP) — Austria’s former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has been charged with making false statements to a parliamentary inquiry into alleged corruption in his first government, which collapsed in a scandal in 2019, prosecutors said Friday.

An indictment against Kurz, his former chief of staff, Bernhard Bonelli, and a third person was filed at the state court in Vienna, the prosecutors’ office that investigates corruption cases said in a statement. The court said Kurz will go on trial on Oct. 18.

The charges result from an investigation that was launched in 2021, when Kurz was still chancellor. It centers on his testimony to a parliamentary probe that focused on alleged corruption in the coalition he led from 2017, when his conservative People’s Party formed a government with the far-right Freedom Party, until its collapse in 2019.

Kurz pulled the plug on that government after a video surfaced showing the vice chancellor and Freedom Party leader at the time, Heinz-Christian Strache, appearing to offer favors to a purported Russian investor.

In the corruption case, Kurz is accused of giving false evidence in June 2020 regarding his role in the setting up of a holding company, OeBAG, which administers the state’s role in some companies, and the appointment of its leadership. The charge of giving false evidence can carry a penalty of up to three years in prison.

Kurz has denied wrongdoing, a stance he reiterated in a series of posts on social platform X, formerly known as Twitter, earlier Friday that anticipated the charges.

“The allegations are false and we are looking forward to the truth finally coming to light and the accusations also turning out to be unfounded in court,” he wrote. He said it was “unsurprising” that prosecutors had decided to file charges “despite 30 exonerating witness statements.”

A few months after the collapse of his first government, Kurz returned to power in a new coalition with the environmentalist Greens in early 2020. But he resigned as chancellor in October 2021 to defuse a political crisis triggered by prosecutors’ announcement that he was one of the targets of a second investigation into suspected bribery and breach of trust. The Greens had demanded his replacement; Kurz denied any wrongdoing in that case too.

In the second case, Kurz and his close associates were accused of trying to secure his rise to the leadership of his party and the country with the help of manipulated polls and friendly media reports financed with public money. Kurz became the leader of his Austrian People’s Party and then chancellor in 2017, when he was only 31.

A few weeks after he quit as chancellor, Kurz announced that he was leaving politics altogether. Karl Nehammer then became chancellor and leader of the People’s Party.

Austria’s next national election is due next year, and recent polls have shown the Freedom Party in the lead.

News of the indictment broke as Nehammer was holding a news conference in Salzburg with visiting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Asked about the news, Nehammer replied: “If that is the case, then there is finally the possibility to clear this up now.”

The court on Friday identified the third person charged as Bettina Glatz-Kremsner, the former head of Casinos Austria, who is accused of making false statements regarding the appointment of a board member at that entity.