Newly released transcripts of the so-called “Ibiza Affair” have countered the previous media narrative that brought down former Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and the conservative-populist coalition government last year.
The transcripts come from unreleased video, part of the six or so hours of footage taken in a residence on the Spanish island of Ibiza in 2017, and show the former populist Freedom Party (FPÖ) leader actively reject any potential illegal dealings with a woman posing as the relative of a Russian oligarch.
In the footage previously released last year in May by German newspapers Der Spiegel and Suddeutsche Zeitung, the fake Russian oligarch woman offered to buy Austrian’s largest newspaper Kronen Zeitung and help the FPÖ in exchange for public construction contracts.
The transcripts of the new footage, which were released by Austrian newspaper OE24, reveals that Strache explicitly said he did not want to engage in illegal or corrupt actions.
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When the fake Russian oligarch niece mentions that illegal offers were “common” in Eastern Europe, Strache responded saying, “No, no. But now we are honest. With all of this shit, you make yourself vulnerable and I don’t want to be vulnerable. I want to sleep quietly. I want to get up in the morning and say, ‘I’m clean.'”
Strache also speaks with former Vienna Deputy Mayor Johann Gudenus, who was also forced to resign after the release of the tapes last year, and states that the FPO were being watched “24 hours” by the Austrian security services for anything that could bring the party down.
He adds that there is no compromising or vulnerable material on him and he intended to stay that way saying, “The biggest mistake would be to act differently.”
The new transcript shows both the woman, who is now wanted by Austrian Federal police, and her companion, who was revealed to be a private investigator named Julian H., repeatedly try and get Strache and Gudenus to agree to illegal dealings.
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Strache commented on the transcripts telling OE24, “It shows very well how manipulative the video was in May of last year. The new five minutes, like the rest of the video, will prove that I have repeatedly stressed that I do not want to do anything illegal.”
Some in the German-speaking media have also begun to criticise the two newspapers who first published the tapes, with Die Welt noting there had been a “consciously unfavourable selection of video clips,” while the papers had access to hours of footage.
Others, such as the conservative online publication Tichys Einblick, have compared the affair to the fake diaries of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler published by the magazine Stern in the 1980s.
One of the newspapers involved, Der Spiegel, was also the centre of a scandal in 2018 when it was revealed one of its star journalists Claas Relotius had deliberately faked stories for years, inventing stories about middle America.
Relotius had received many awards for his fake stories, including CNN’s “Journalist of the Year” award in 2014.
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Since publishing the new footage of the Ibiza Affair, OE24 editor in chief Richard Schmitt has claimed that an editor from Suddeutsche Zeitung recently threatened him.
“Apparently as a reaction to my reporting on the Ibiza affair, an editor of the [Suddeutsche Zeitung] harm again – they threaten to bring ‘new knowledge’ about a media project that I cancelled in 08/2019,” he said on Twitter.
The Ibiza affair became one of the largest scandals in post-war Austrian history last year and saw Strache resign as both Vice-Chancellor and as leader of the FPÖ.
The affair led to the collapse of the conservative-populist coalition between the FPÖ and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s Austrian People’s Party, who now rule in a coalition with the Green Party following a national election last year.