Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz rules out working with vice-chancellor: reports


Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has reportedly ruled out working together any longer with Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, making Strache's resignation in the wake of a corruption scandal more likely.

The two men were due to meet on Saturday morning, with the vice-chancellor expected to make a statement at noon, but several news agencies, citing insider sources, have reported that Kurz has already decided against continuing to work with Strache.

Kurz's conservative Austrian People's People's (ÖVP) currently governs Austria in coalition with Strache's far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ).

Strache's departure would leave the chancellor with the decision of either dissolving the government and calling new elections, or attempting to maintain his coalition with the FPÖ under a new leader.

Strache was caught on video offering business deals to a woman posing as a Russian oligarch's niece in exchange for her help boosting the FPÖ's news coverage.

Buying the media

The video, reportedly filmed on the Spanish island of Ibiza in July 2017 but only disclosed on Friday evening, has triggered a crisis in the Austrian government, with opposition parties already demanding new elections.

In the video, parts of which have been released by Germany's Der Spiegel and the Süddeutsche Zeitung, a woman calling herself Alyona Makarova can be heard telling Strache and FPÖ parliamentary group leader Johann Gudenus that she is very wealthy and wants to buy as much as 50% of Austria's largest newspaper, the Kronen Zeitung.

According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the meeting lasted several hours, with Strache and Gudenus (whose wife is also present) discussing with Makarova and a male companion about how secret donations and friendly media coverage could help the far-right party. The video was apparently recorded a few months before the Austrian national election in October 2017, when the FPÖ took 26% of the vote and entered government.

Makarova reportedly claims to be interested in the paper so that she can provide favorable pre-election coverage of the FPÖ. Strache and Gudenus describe to her ways in which rich sponsors could donate to the FPÖ via non-profit organizations, so the donations do not become public.

Strache tells her that the Kronen Zeitung deal could push the FPÖ from 27% up to 34% in the vote, and proposes a number of ways in which he could repay the woman.

In a clip of the video that has been released, Strache tells the woman that if his party gains power, he would be able to shift state infrastructure contracts to her supposed companies away from Austrian construction giant Strabag.

In response to the release of the video, Strache and Gudenus told Der Spiegel and the Süddeutsche Zeitung that throughout the meeting they had emphasized the "necessity of conforming to Austrian law," and that they had only been talking about potential donations to the FPÖ or non-profit organizations.

They added that much alcohol was consumed during the encounter, and that the absence of a professional translator had created a language barrier. In the video, Gudenus can be heard translating into Russian.

bk/jlw (dpa, Reuters, AFP)