Austrian government collapses after far-right minister fired
Austria’s far-right interior minister, Herbert Kickl, has been fired in the wake of the “Ibiza” corruption scandal that has engulfed the Freedom party (FPÖ), leading to the complete collapse of the country’s governing coalition.
In response to the sacking, the remaining Freedom party ministers resigned from their posts, which included the ministries for defence, work and transport.
Kickl’s sacking follows the resignation of FPÖ leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, as vice-chancellor following the emergence of a video that showed him offering lucrative public contracts in exchange for campaign support.
In a press conference on Monday night, the Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, said he had proposed Kickl’s sacking to the Austrian president in order to ensure a “complete, transparent investigation” into the scandal.
Kickl, he said, had failed to show the “required sensibility in dealing with the accusations”, which had emerged when German media published a video on Friday of a meeting between Strache and a woman purporting to be the niece of a Russian oligarch.
Opposition parties had insisted that a transparent investigation of the scandal was only possible if the FPÖ vacated the influential interior ministry.
Until fresh elections, likely to be held in September, the posts vacated by all the resigning FPÖ ministers will be filled by “by experts or senior civil servants”, Kurz said.
Earlier in the day, Kickl refused to resign of his own accord, lashing out at a campaign against his party “played out via foreign countries”, and accused Kurz’s centre-right Austrian People’s party (ÖVP) of a “thirst for power”.
On Friday night, German news magazine Der Spiegel and daily Süddeutsche Zeitung published a video that shows Strache, talking to the unidentified woman at a luxury resort in Ibiza. When the woman expresses an interest in gaining control of the country’s largest-circulation tabloid, Kronen Zeitung, Strache suggests he could offer lucrative public contracts in exchange for campaign support.
Strache and his parliamentary leader, Johann Gudenus, who had initiated the meeting, resigned on Saturday, saying their behaviour was “stupid, irresponsible and a mistake”. Shortly after their resignations, Kurz called snap elections.
It remains unclear who set up the carefully planned sting. On Monday evening, Kurz said that ascertaining the origin of the video was as important as its content.
Though filmed in July 2017, the video was only leaked to the journalists at Der Spiegel and Süddeutsche Zeitung last week. The publications said they would not comment on the origin of the video in order to protect their sources, but they commissioned a certified Russian translator and IT forensics experts to verify its authenticity before publishing.
In his resignation statement on Saturday, Strache called the video “a honey trap stage-managed by intelligence agencies”.
He also alluded to a controversial Israeli spin doctor with links to Austria’s centre-left Social Democratic party (SPÖ) and even the German satirist Jan Böhmermann, who had cryptically referred to “hanging out with FPÖ party colleagues at a Russian oligarch’s villa on Ibiza” in a broadcast in April. Böhmermann’s manager has confirmed the comedian knew of the video’s existence.