Austria vice-chancellor caught on secret video

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-48318195

Austria"s Vice-Chancellor and chairman of the Freedom Party FPOe Heinz-Christian Strache at a pres conferenceImage copyright
AFP

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Mr Strache has acknowledged that the meeting took place, but said it had been “purely private”

Austria’s Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache has been filmed appearing to offer government contracts in exchange for political support.

The video, filmed secretly shortly before Austria’s election in 2017, shows Mr Strache speaking to a woman who claims to be a Russian investor.

Mr Strache also appears to hint at a potentially illegal donation system for the far-right Freedom Party he leads.

The revelations come amid high tensions within Austria’s coalition government.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the centre-right People’s Party is expected to give a statement later on Saturday.

The video was published on Friday in a joint report by the German news magazine Der Spiegel and the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.

It is unclear who set up the meeting and who filmed it.

What’s in the video?

The secretly-filmed video shows Mr Strache and Johann Gudenus – also a Freedom Party politician – talking to a woman who claims to be a wealthy Russian citizen looking to invest in Austria.

The meeting reportedly took place at a villa on the Spanish island of Ibiza, in a private room with both politicians relaxing on sofas, smoking and drinking.

In the footage, the woman says she is the niece of a powerful Russian oligarch. She offers to buy a 50% stake in Austria’s Kronen-Zeitung newspaper and switch its editorial position to support the Freedom Party.

In exchange, Mr Strache said he could award her public contracts, explaining that he wanted to “build a media landscape like Orbán”, a reference to Hungary’s far-right prime minister.

The vice-chancellor also speculates that the Russian’s takeover of Kronen-Zeitung could boost support for the party to as high as 34%.

“If you take over the Kronen Zeitung three weeks before the election and get us into first place, then we can talk about everything,” Mr Strache said.

As part of the deal, he suggests the Russian woman “set up a company like Strabang,” the Austrian construction firm.

“All the government orders that Strabang gets now, [you] would get,” he continues.

Mr Strache also names several journalists who would have to be “pushed” from the newspaper, and five other “new people whom we will build up”.

During the discussions, the vice chancellor says that wealthy donors have paid the Freedom Party through an “association” to keep their donations hidden.

“The association is charitable, it’s got nothing to do with the party,” Mr Strache said. “That way no report goes to the Rechnungshof [Austria’s court of auditors]”.

How have people responded?

The alleged donors named by Mr Strache and Mr Gudenus in the video have denied sending money to the party, according to Der Spiegel and the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The two men have acknowledged that the meeting took place, but said it had been “purely private”. They added that they had repeatedly mentioned “the relevant legal regulations and the necessity to observe Austrian law” during the encounter.

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