Austria’s Kurz accused of using public money to fund positive media coverage

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Prosecutors in Austria say Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, already under investigation in a bribery probe, is suspected of using government funds to secure favourable media coverage.

“Sebastian Kurz and nine other suspects, as well as three organisations” are the subject of an inquiry into various corruption offences related to the affair, the prosecution said in a statement.

Austrian media reported earlier on Wednesday that investigators had searched the offices of the country’s governing People’s Party in connection with a bribery investigation. Prosecutors said they were investigating Kurz among others.

The Austria Press Agency reported that the chancellery building was also searched, though it wasn’t immediately clear whether this included Kurz’s offices.

Two dailies, Presse and Kurier, reported that the probe was linked to suspicious payments for opinion polls published in another newspaper. Public broadcaster ORF reported that the polls, which benefited the center-right People’s Party, were paid for by the finance ministry.

The prosecutors’ office said its investigation into Kurz and nine other people, as well as three organisations it didn’t name, were on suspicion of breach of trust and bribery, APA reported. It involves alleged actions between 2016 and at least 2018.

Senior People’s Party officials claimed that media leaks in recent days about planned searches had been intended to hurt the party and Kurz.

The 35-year-old chancellor was put under investigation in May by anti-corruption authorities on suspicion of making false statements to a parliamentary commission, an allegation he has rejected.

Kurz became chancellor in late 2017 after previously serving as Austria’s foreign minister.

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