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Austrian ex-chancellor charged in latest corruption scandal

Austrian prosecutors said Friday they have charged former chancellor Sebastian Kurz with giving false testimony, the latest in a series of wide-ranging corruption scandals that have rocked the Alpine country. Kurz -- once hailed as a "wunderkind" of Europe's conservatives -- stepped down as chancellor in 2021 following a string of graft accusations, including spending…

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz gives a press conference on April 6, 2020 in Vienna, amid the novel coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic. – Austria could start easing its coronavirus lockdown measures from next week, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on April 6, 2020, but warned that this depended on citizens abiding by social distancing rules. (Photo by HELMUT FOHRINGER / APA / AFP) / Austria OUT

Austrian prosecutors said Friday they have charged former chancellor Sebastian Kurz with giving false testimony, the latest in a series of wide-ranging corruption scandals that have rocked the Alpine country.

Kurz — once hailed as a “wunderkind” of Europe’s conservatives — stepped down as chancellor in 2021 following a string of graft accusations, including spending public money for favourable media coverage.

It marked the spectacular fall of the charismatic hardliner, who became the world’s youngest democratically elected head of government in 2017 at age 31.

Prosecutors said they have charged Kurz and two other people with providing false testimony to a parliamentary committee probing numerous graft allegations.

The trial has been set for 18 October and is expected to last three days, the Vienna criminal court said.

Kurz, 36, has repeatedly dismissed the accusations levied against him.

The investigation by the state economic crime and corruption prosecutor into the charges Kurz allegedly lied to a committee of lawmakers wrapped up in January.

In statements to the parliamentary committee, Kurz downplayed his influence in appointing then-finance ministry official, Thomas Schmid, to head the state-run company OeBAG.

But chat messages leaked to the press about the process of setting up OeBAG suggested that both men had discussed the matter.

Ahead of the indictment Kurz said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the “allegations are false” and his team was looking forward to them being “proven baseless in court”.

If found guilty, he could face up to three years in jail.

Earlier this year, Kurz’s lawyer Werner Suppan said that 30 witnesses so far have exonerated his client with their statements.

The former chancellor is now involved in numerous private international enterprises, including launching a cybersecurity company with the ex-head of Israel’s NSO Group, which makes controversial Pegasus spyware.

The conservative People’s Party, which Kurz headed until 2021, continues to govern in a coalition with the Greens — but their approval ratings have plummeted.

In a separate case, prosecutors are investigating Kurz on suspicion of embezzling public funds for favourable coverage to help his political rise.

Austria tightened its anti-corruption law in July.

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