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Austria scandal: What we know about the video which brought down the government

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Sebastian Kurz and Heinz-Christian Strache on March 6, 2019.
Sebastian Kurz and Heinz-Christian Strache on March 6, 2019. -
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A deep political crisis engulfed Austria on Friday after a video was released showing the leader of the country's junior coalition far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) seemingly agree to offer public contracts to a Russian backer — and one name, that of a German satirist, keeps coming up.

In the three days since the scandal erupted, the man at the heart of it all, Vice-Chancellor and FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache, resigned; Chancellor Sebastian Kurz accused the party of trying to undermine reforms and called for snap elections; and FPÖ ministers riposted by resigning en masse.

READ MORE: Austria's FPÖ ministers resign en masse to protest colleague's sacking in wake of video scandal

Meanwhile, the German media outlets which released the footage have refused to say who gave it to them, but questions are arising about Jan Böhmermann, a German satirist and television presenter, after recent comments he made reveal he's known about the video for a while.

Euronews breaks it all down.

The video

The footage was released on Friday by Germany's "Süddeutsche Zeitung" (SZ) and "Spiegel" and was captured in Ibiza, Spain, in the summer of 2017.

It shows Strache and another FPÖ official, Johann Gudenus, speak with a woman they believe to be a Russian oligarch's niece. She tells them she plans to invest €250 million in Austria and they discuss how this could help the far-right party. Strache suggests she invests in the "Kronen Zeitung" tabloid to turn it into an FPÖ-friendly outlet and appears to promise public contracts in exchange.

They also discuss how to cover up illegal donations she might want to make to the party and Strache's plans to restructure the country's state broadcaster, ORF, in order to build "a media landscape like [Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor] Orban did."

Strache's response

In his resignation speech on Saturday morning, Strache decried the "dirty campaign" against him, arguing that it was part of a "targeted political assassination".

The video, which appears to be a sting operation, was filmed months before the October 2017 parliamentary elections which brought the FPÖ to power. But it was released just a week ahead of the European Union elections in which far-right and populist parties are expected to do well. SZ and Spiegel said they received the video earlier this month and have refused to name their sources.

READ MORE: Corruption probe a blow for far-right parties ahead of EU elections

Strache also rejected any suggestion he had committed any crimes and blamed the alcohol for his behaviour that night.

"It was typical alcohol-induced macho talk, and yes, I was probably trying to impress the attractive woman," he said, conceding that "it was stupid, it was irresponsible, and it was a mistake."

He then, jokingly, "wondered what role Böhmermann played in connection with this."

Jan Böhmermann:

Böhmermann, who presents a weekly satirical show called "Neo Magazin Royale" in his native Germany, is a vocal critic of the FPÖ and has criticised the party's plan to weaken Austria's state broadcaster.

Flickr/Marco Verch
Jan Böhmermann on September 30, 2018.Flickr/Marco Verch

The satirist was prosecuted in 2016 after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded charges be brought against him under an old "lese-majeste" law in Germany which made insulting a foreign leader a crime after Böhmermann used profane language to describe him in a poem he read out on his show. The charges were later dropped and the law was scrapped.

But it's comments he made recently that have raised eyebrows. In a video sent to the ROMY awards last month, Böhmermann apologised he could not be there to accept his award in person, saying that he was too busy hanging out with "some FPÖ business friends in a Russian oligarch's villa in Ibiza."

On the eve of the video's release last week, he also told a guest on his show that "it may be that Austria burns tomorrow."

Böhmermann's agent, Peter Burtz, confirmed to German news agency DPA that the satirist had known of the video's existence for weeks but denied that it had been offered to him and said he did not know how his client had known about the footage.

Earlier on Monday, posted a link to a site called "dotheyknowitseurope" which only displays a countdown ending on Wednesday. There is no information to determine whether it is linked to the ongoing scandal in Austria.