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Former Austrian leader Sebastian Kurz charged with giving false evidence to a corruption inquiry

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Sebastian Kurz, the former chancellor of Austria, has been charged with making false statements to a parliamentary inquiry into alleged corruption in his first government, which collapsed in 2019. The prosecutors in Vienna accuse him of lying about his role in the appointment of executives to the board of Austria’s sovereign wealth fund, the state holding company Öbag. He faces a maximum penalty of three years in prison if convicted.

Kurz, who resigned as chancellor in October 2021 after his office was raided by prosecutors, has denied the accusations and said he looks forward to proving his innocence in court. He announced his decision to quit politics in December 2021, saying he wanted to avoid further damage to his party, the center-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP).

The charges stem from an investigation that was launched in 2021, when Kurz was still chancellor. It focused on his testimony to a parliamentary probe that examined whether his government was open to bribes and corruption. The inquiry was triggered by a secretly filmed video of his vice-chancellor and Freedom Party leader at the time, Heinz-Christian Strache, appearing to offer favors to a purported Russian investor. The scandal led to the collapse of Kurz’s first coalition government with the far-right party and a vote of no-confidence against him in May 2019.

According to the prosecutors, Kurz gave false evidence when asked about his involvement in the selection of Thomas Schmid as the CEO of Öbag in 2019. Schmid, a close ally of Kurz, resigned from his post in June 2021 after leaked chat messages showed him seeking Kurz’s approval for his appointment and discussing how to use his position to benefit the ÖVP.

Kurz’s former chief of staff, Bernhard Bonelli, and another unidentified person have also been charged in the case, the prosecutors said. The court said Kurz will go on trial on Oct. 18.

Kurz, who became Europe’s youngest leader at the age of 31 in 2017, was once seen as a wunderkind of European politics. He led his party to two election victories and formed a second coalition government with the Greens in 2020. However, his political career has been tarnished by the corruption allegations.

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