Prosecutors in Austria say Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, already under investigation for bribery, is suspected of using government funds to secure favorable media coverage.
“Sebastian Kurz and nine other suspects, as well as three organizations” are the subject of an investigation into various corruption offenses in connection with the case, the prosecution said in a statement.
Austrian media reported earlier that investigators had searched the offices of the country’s ruling People’s Party in connection with a bribery probe. Prosecutors said they were investigating Kurz among others.
The Austrian Press Agency reported that the chancellery building was also searched, although it was not immediately clear if this included Kurz’s offices.
Two dailies, Presse and Kurier, reported that the investigation was linked to questionable payments for surveys published in another newspaper. Public broadcaster ORF reported that the polls, which benefited the center-right People’s Party, were paid for by the finance ministry.
The prosecutor’s office said its investigation into Kurz and nine other people, as well as three organizations he did not mention, were suspected of breach of trust and bribery, the APA reported. It includes suspected actions between 2016 and at least until 2018.
This relates to the period in which Kurz took over the leadership of the People’s Party and led it to government at the head of a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe).
Prosecutors allege that an unidentified media company “received payment” in exchange for publishing these polls.
The company in question has not been officially named, but has been widely identified in the Austrian media as the tabloid “Oesterreich”.
The Oesterreich-led group issued a statement denying any wrongdoing in the commissioning or publication of its polls.
Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane, reporting from Berlin, said an opinion poll had been taken from the newspaper in question, which “threw Mr Kurz’s party in a very preferential light and did not appear as an advertisement”.
Kane said certain individuals in that newspaper were given positions on the board of a certain company.
“The suggestion made by prosecutors is that federal finances are involved – that means government money, that is, taxpayer money,” he said.
Senior People’s Party officials claimed that media reports in recent days about planned searches were intended to harm the party and Kurz.
The 35-year-old chancellor was investigated in May by anti-corruption authorities on suspicion of making false statements to a parliamentary committee, an accusation he has denied.
Kurz became chancellor in late 2017 after previously serving as Austria’s foreign minister.
(mk / Outney)
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