Austrian far-Right leader under criminal investigation over video scandal 

Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache reacts as he addresses the media in Vienna, Austria, May 18, 201
Austrian prosecutors confirmed they are investigating former Austrian vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache Credit:  Leonhard Foeger/REUTERS

The former leader of Austria’s far-Right Freedom Party (FPÖ) is under criminal investigation over a corruption video that brought down the country’s government, it has emerged.

Heinz-Christian Strache resigned as Austrian vice-chancellor last month after a video was made public in which he appeared to offer government contracts to a Russian oligarch in return for financial support.

Public prosecutors confirmed this week that he is under criminal investigation on suspicion of breach of trust in connection with allegations which emerged in the video.

Two other Freedom Party politicians, Johann Gudenus and Marcus Tschank, are also under investigation in connection with the video, prosecutors said. 

Lawyers for Mr Strache refused to comment, saying: “We cannot comment on ongoing criminal proceedings”.

The scandal, which has become known in Austria as “Ibizagate”, has already brought down the government of former chancellor Sebastian Kurz and left Mr Strache’s career in tatters.

In the secretly filmed video Mr Strache (centre) and Mr Gudenus (left) are seen with a woman posing as a Russian oligarch Credit: AFP

Mr Strache led the far-Right Freedom Party into government for the first time in more than a decade when he went into coalition with Mr Kurz's People's Party (ÖVP) in 2017

But the coalition collapsed last month after a secretly filmed video emerged of Mr Strache and Mr Gudenus at a villa in Ibiza with a woman posing as a Russian oligarch.

It is not clear which sections of the video the criminal investigation concerns. At one point, Mr Strache appeared to offer the woman government contracts if she bought an Austrian newspaper and used to it back his party.

At another, he appeared to tell her how to get round Austrian laws against foreign political donations by giving money to a NGO which could then channel it to his party.

The investigation could end Mr Strache’s hopes of a political comeback. He unexpectedly won a seat in the European parliament in last month’s election, and has yet to declare whether he will take it.

The new FPÖ leadership is said to be keen for Mr Strache to give up the seat so the party can move on.

Mr Kurz attempted to remain in power at the head of a minority government after ending his coalition with the Freedom Party over the video, but lost a confidence vote in parliament.

A caretaker government has been appointed until new elections can be held. They are expected to take place on September 29.