VIENNA (Reuters) – Austrian conservative leader Sebastian Kurz said on Monday that an email hoax had attempted to implicate him in a video sting scandal that felled the leader of the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) and blew up their coalition government.
FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache resigned last month after German media published secretly filmed footage from a 2017 dinner party in Ibiza at which he met a woman posing as a Russian oligarch’s niece and appeared to offer to fix state contracts. He denies doing anything illegal.
Kurz called off their coalition and tried to stay on as head of what was effectively a minority government but parliament dismissed him and his cabinet, saying he must share some of the blame for the fallout from the scandal, since he brought the far-right back into power.
Kurz said on Monday that an Austrian media outlet had received copies of emails purportedly exchanged between him and a close ally in his centre-right People’s Party, Gernot Bluemel, implicating them in the Ibiza scandal. Checks by the party and an independent company found the emails to be fakes, he said.
“It is an attempt to defame us. It is an attempt to pull us as the People’s Party into this Ibiza scandal… concretely an attempt to pull Gernot Bluemel and me in,” Kurz told a hastily convened news conference.
The unnamed media outlet sent screenshots of the emails to the People’s Party to verify them. The party says it carried out technical checks and a company specialising in computer forensics also carried out its own checks, using further technical details from the media outlet.
“These emails are a forgery, albeit an elaborate and partly well executed one,” said Kurz, who declined to comment further on the content of those messages, which purportedly dated from February 2018.
It is not clear who was behind the emails, said Kurz, who hopes to return to power after a parliamentary election widely expected to take place on Sept. 29.
Monday’s announcement shows how toxic politically the Ibiza scandal remains while many questions linked to it remain unanswered, including whether political parties have flouted party financing laws, as Strache suggested in the video.
Anti-corruption prosecutors are investigating Strache on suspicion of breach of trust.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Gareth Jones)