20 May 2019
Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache resigned as secretly recorded video footage showed him talking to an alleged Russian investor in Ibiza. Mr. Strache (in picture) also vowed to resign as leader of the Freedom Party.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has called for snap elections after Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache resigned. Kurz said at a news conference in Vienna that his coalition partner, the far right Freedom Party damaged the reputation of the country.
The Freedom Party has long been part of Austria’s politics. Founded by former Nazis in the 1950s, it first entered government 17 years ago, the first far-right party to do so in post-war Europe.
Freedom Party politician Johann Gudenus, who was in the video translating Russian into German for Strache, also resigned Saturday.
The scandal is the biggest crisis the coalition has faced since it was formed in 2017. Outside the chancellor’s office in Vienna, more than 5,000 protesters gathered, demanding fresh elections.
Transport Minister Norbert Hofer, who ran for president in 2016, is expected to take over from Strache as head of the Freedom Party.
The video footage was published on German media on Friday, 17 May 2019. German news outlets did not release the full recordings. The video was recorded in July 2017 in a rented villa in Ibiza, Spain. According to the German news outlet five people were present at the meeting. They were Mr. Strache; a woman who said she was the niece of a Russian oligarch; an interpreter; another Freedom Party official, Johann Gudenus, who seems to have set up the meeting; and Mr. Gudenus’s wife, Tajana.
The Russian woman was said to be Alyona Makarova, the purported niece of Igor Makarov, a Russian oligarch close to President Vladimir Putin. She held an EU passport from Latvia. The Russian woman could not be seen in any of the videos released so far. She is believed to be a decoy in a possible sting operation.
In the video, the Russian woman indicated that she wanted to invest Euros 250 million in Austria. The possibility of taking state road contracts away from Austria’s largest construction company, Strabag, and turning them over to a company she would establish, was also discussed. Strache, wanting to bolster his party suggested a large donation by her to a charitable association. That way no report goes to the Rechnungshof, the Austrian court of auditors. The party would then use the funds from the association. She also offered to buy a 50% stake in Austria’s Kronen-Zeitung newspaper and switch its editorial position to support Strache’s Freedom Party. Mr Strache named several journalists who would have to be “pushed” from the newspaper replaced by five other “new people whom we will build up”.