Austrian corruption probe linked to former chancellor Sebastian Kurz expands

A sprawling corruption investigation into dozens of Austrian politicians and officials linked to the country’s one-time leader Sebastian Kurz dramatically increased as a key lieutenant to the former chancellor turned crown witness.

Austria’s prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday that Thomas Schmid, a Kurz ally who helped to propel the former chancellor’s rise to power, had provided days of evidence after being “questioned extensively” over the affair.

The state economic crime and corruption prosecutor (WKStA) said its probe was officially looking into 45 individuals and entities that were close to Kurz during his time in office.

The investigation, which precipitated Kurz’s resignation from office in October last year, has transfixed Austria, one of the wealthiest EU member states, and threatened to tarnish its reputation for probity and the rule of law.

Kurz, 36, served two terms as chancellor, from 2017-2019 and in 2020-2021, during both of which he was the youngest head of government in the world. He could not be reached for comment.

“[A] total of 15 full-day [depositions] have taken place at the WKStA since June 2022, during which the accused was questioned extensively,” the prosecutor said in relation to Schmid, former head of the Austrian state holding company and a top finance ministry official.

The sensitive nature of the testimony meant it had been kept from other legal parties to the investigation until now, the WKStA said.

The former chancellor and his allies accuse the WKStA of grossly overstepping its remit and politicising its investigations by selectively leaking information to the media.

Kurz was reluctantly forced from the chancellery as a result of disclosures about the WKStA investigation and evidence gathered in a parallel special parliamentary investigative committee.

He is separately facing criminal charges from the WKStA for misleading the parliamentary committee.

Since leaving Austrian politics, Kurz has partnered with the Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel by working as a “global strategist” at Thiel Capital, his investment company.

The WKStA investigation — officially referred to as the “Casag-Komplex”, after the initial probe into alleged nepotism at the state gambling concern Casinos Austria (Casag) — has grown over three years to encompass a range of potential crimes. These include bribery, disclosure of state secrets and abuse of office relating to individuals across government. No charges have yet been brought.

Prosecutors have expanded the range of their inquiries as more and more officials’ mobile phones have been confiscated as part of the probe, in turn revealing evidence of further, unrelated potential crimes or conspiracies as terabytes of chat-logs were pored over.

The investigation has also threatened to snare some of the biggest names in Austrian business, although none have yet been formally named in connection with the Casag-Komplex.

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