Austria’s coalition govt collapses over scandalous Ibiza video

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Austria’s government has collapsed following the release of a video that shows the leader of the junior coalition party negotiating deals with the purported niece of a Russian oligarch. 

The video was secretly filmed in Ibiza, Spain, in the summer of 2017, but wasn’t released until Friday by two German news outlets.

It shows Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the country’s far-right Freedom Party (FPO), and another party member, Johann Gudenus, talking to the woman about a €250m (£220m) investment she says she is hoping to make in Austria.

They explain how such an investment would be useful to the FPO, should it be used to buy a large Austrian tabloid and then sway its support toward the party. The woman is then promised profitable public contracts in return.

Mr Strache, who at the time was overseeing the FPO’s financial conduct, resigned the morning after the video’s release, citing a “targeted political assassination” and blamed his comments on “alcohol-induced macho talk”.

Austria's coalition govt collapses over scandalous Ibiza video
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Heinz-Christian Strache has resigned following the release of the video

Mr Gudenus has also resigned from his post as the party’s parliamentary group leader

But Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who is leader of the centre-right Austrian People’s Party, has said “enough is enough” from his coalition partner.

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He has since requested to remove the country’s interior minister Herbert Kickl – who is also an FPO party member – from his post, in order to ensure an investigation into the video remains unbiased.

Speaking in Vienna, Mr Kurz said he was “firmly convinced” that “total transparency and a completely unbiased investigation” was necessary.

He added that he thought FPO officials “didn’t really have the feeling [they had] an awareness of the dimension of the whole issue”.

Mr Kurz’s request to remove Kickl is currently pending the approval of the Austrian president, but the FPO has already reacted by withdrawing its own ministers.

Austria's coalition govt collapses over scandalous Ibiza video
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Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is seeking to remove interior minister Herbert Kickl from his post

The video was released by Germany’s weekly Der Spiegel and daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung just days ahead of the start of the European Parliament elections.

Both news outlets have said they believe the video was part of a sting operation, but have refused to reveal their source.

Russia has also denied any connection to the video, with spokesperson Dmitry Peskov saying: “We don’t know who that woman is and whether she is Russian or not.”

Following the FPO’s withdrawal of its ministers, Mr Kurz is faced with plugging gaps in his government.

He has said he will fill them in the meantime with civil servants and technocrats, but an early election is to be expected.

Mr Kurz’s government may also have to face a vote of no confidence brought about by Austria’s opposition parties.