Two weeks ago, the Ibiza committee of inquiry of the Austrian parliament ended its taking of evidence, but the issue is far from having cooled down politically.

This is not so much because the groups are now working on their final reports, which can be expected to come to completely contrary conclusions.

That should be perceived as the usual banter.

But there are still investigations into the allegation of false testimony before the committee, and that's the whole thing, because they are directed against Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his office manager.

How nervous this makes those affected is indicated by some of the swings in the debate.

Stephan Löwenstein

Political correspondent based in Vienna.

  • Follow I follow

Kurz defends himself not only with legal means, but also with public accusations, especially against the Economic and Corruption Public Prosecutor's Office (WKStA).

At least individual investigators of the authority accuse Kurz and his colleagues in the Christian-democratic ÖVP of acting politically biased.

Kurz speaks of legitimate criticism

These statements again met with sharp criticism from the other parties. They do this not least with the Greens, who form the government with the ÖVP and provide the Minister of Justice with Alma Zadić. In this debate, Kurz recently resorted to a strange comparison. He mentally put the prosecutors close to pedophile priests in the Catholic Church. With this, Kurz obviously wanted to counter the impression that his criticism was directed against “the judiciary” as a whole or against its independence. Nevertheless, that is exactly what he was accused of.

Kurz had said in a video interview with the online portal “Vorarlberg Online” that it must be possible to critically question “the work of individuals”, even if they work for institutions that are worth protecting. The Christian-democratic politician named the Catholic Church as an example of an institution that had previously "never been questioned" and in which attempts had even been made to cover up cases of abuse. “No institution should be sacrosanct,” concluded Kurz. If someone is “guilty of something”, it is legitimate to bring it up. In the area of ​​the Corruption Prosecutor's Office, a number of "problem areas" have recently been seen, Kurz found. He pointed out that cases would become public before they even went to court and that allegations were "brought up"which subsequently turned out to be wrong.

The Austrian Association of Public Prosecutors then wrote on Twitter that “the Chancellor's comparison between public prosecutors and pedophiles” does not require any further comment. However, one should warn against “discrediting parts of the judiciary in a subtle way in public without substantiating the alleged criticism with facts”. The “unbearable comparison” met with fierce criticism from the opposition. The open dispute between ÖVP and WKStA has been going on since last February. In a background discussion that was not actually intended to be published, Kurz had expressed the assessment that it was a network of red prosecutors who were targeting the ÖVP and releasing files to the outside world. The WKStA and Minister of Justice Zadić denied this vehemently.

Happy threat of punishment against the Chancellor

It is undeniable that the WKStA has targeted more than a dozen ÖVP politicians and officials close to the ÖVP as suspects since the 2019 Ibiza affair.

The most prominent are Kurz and his finance minister and party friend Gernot Blümel.

For Kurz, it is a secondary act that is being investigated.

But the threat of punishment for a suspected false testimony before a parliamentary committee of inquiry is very steep at up to three years.

Finance Minister Blümel only found out from the media that he was being investigated. In his case, the prosecutors rely on a chat from 2017 with a gambling manager about a "donation" and the request for help in a tax affair, whereby Blümel himself did not hold any relevant office at the time and there is no further indication of a corresponding donation . Nevertheless, there was a media-effective house search, his mobile phone and other electronic devices were confiscated; the opposition demanded Blumel's resignation. The media recently reported that the house search had apparently not uncovered anything relevant.

At least in one point, Kurz has now prevailed against the WKStA. His lawyer had asserted that the suspect should not be questioned by the public prosecutor, but by a judge. He relied on a provision of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which provides for exactly that when there is a special meaning of the accused as well as a special meaning of the crime and therefore a great public interest.

The WKStA wanted to conduct the interrogation itself, until the Ministry of Justice gave Kurz's opinion right by issuing instructions. The opposition promptly criticized Justice Minister Zadić for having given in because of coalition reasons, while the ÖVP considered the conclusion admissible that the WKStA's lack of objectivity was now “official”. Zadić coolly rejected both: “It is a legal question that was assessed by the relevant section on the basis of the law.” When the questioning will take place and whether there will be an indictment remains an open question.

Keywords: