Sebastian Kurz resigns as Austrian chancellor amid corruption inquiry

Sebastian Kurz resigns as Austrian chancellor amid corruption inquiry
Resignation comes after police raid government offices and party HQ, triggering political crisis

Sebastian Kurz has said he plans to resign as Austria’s chancellor, days after being named as a suspect in a corruption probe.

The 35-year-old intends to stay on as the leader of the conservative Austrian People’s Party, but said he would step down as chancellor in a bid “to prevent chaos and to ensure stability”.

A political crisis was sparked on Wednesday when police raided government offices and the party headquarters, with state prosecutors naming Mr Kurz and nine others as suspects in an anti-corruption probe.

He and his close associates are accused, “with different levels of involvement”, of a plot between 2016 and 2018 to use public money as a bribe to ensure favourable media coverage and “finance partially manipulated opinion polls that served an exclusively party political interest”.

Mr Kurz has denied wrongdoing and insisted again on Saturday that the accusations against him are false. “I will be able to clear this up — I am deeply convinced of that,” he said, adding: “I will of course use the opportunity to refute and disprove the accusations that have been made against me.”

But his coalition partners in the Austrian Green Party began talks on Friday with the country’s three opposition parties, which all demanded that he step down and had planned to bring a no-confidence motion against him on Tuesday.

Mr Kurz proposed foreign minister Alexander Schallenberg as his replacement on Saturday.

Austria’s vice-chancellor Werner Kogler, who leads the Green Party, said Mr Kurz’s resignation was “the right step for future government work”, adding that he has a “very constructive” working relationship with Mr Schallenberg.

Mr Kurz rose to prominence as a foreign minister critical of neighbouring Germany’s “open-arm” immigration policy, and became the youngest head of government in the world after entering into a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party in 2017.

However the alliance collapsed in 2019, after Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache was caught in a video sting in Ibiza discussing a trade of state contracts for financial or political favours with a woman posing as a Russian oligarch’s niece.

Mr Strache acknowledged the footage was “catastrophic” but denied breaking the law, while Mr Kurz called a snap election, in which he increased his party’s share of the vote and entered into coalition with the Greens.

In a separate case, anti-corruption authorities put Mr Kurz under investigation in May on suspicion of making false statements to a parliamentary commission probing the so-called Ibiza affair which led to his former government’s collapse – an allegation he also rejected.

Meanwhile, his allies have rallied around him in response to the new allegations this week, with his party’s deputy general secretary Gabriela Schwartz suggesting the police raids were “for show”, and MP Andreas Hanger claiming the inquiry was a result of “left wing cells” in the prosecutors’ office.

Additional reporting by agencies