VIENNA (AP) – Austrian vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache resigned Saturday after two German newspapers published footage of him apparently offering lucrative government contracts to a potential Russian benefactor.
Standing before assembled journalists and cameras, Strache said he was illegally set up in a “political assassination” but added his behaviour in the video was “stupid, irresponsible and a mistake.”
The scandal has led to speculation about the future of the governing coalition between Strache’s anti-immigration Freedom Party and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s centre-right People’s Party. Scenarios include replacing Strache in the cabinet with another party member or ending the coalition for new elections.
In his resignation statement, Strache said he was quitting so that the coalition could continue its work. Kurz has so far not spoken publicly.
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The daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung and the weekly Der Spiegel on Friday published extracts of covert video purportedly showing Strache offering government contracts to a Russian woman purportedly interested in investing large amounts of money in Austria.
In the video, the source of which the newspapers declined to reveal, Strache and party colleague Johann Gudenus are heard telling the unnamed woman she could expect lucrative construction contracts if she buys an Austrian newspaper and supports the Freedom Party. Sueddeutsche Zeitung and Der Spiegel said the footage was authenticated by a forensic video expert. It couldn’t be immediately independently verified by The Associated Press.
According to the two newspapers, the video spanned some six hours of drink-fueled conversation in a villa on the Spanish island of Ibiza between the Austrian politicians and the woman, who claimed to be the niece of a prominent Russian businessman. Aside from discussing possible investments in Austria, including the purchase of influential tabloid newspaper Kronen Zeitung, Strache also appears to suggest ways of funnelling money to his party via an unconnected foundation to circumvent Austrian rules on political donations.
Strache announced his resignation to assembled journalists without taking questions. He said that he had no further contact with the woman and that there were no contributions.
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