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Detective who investigated Austria's 'Ibizagate' scandal arrested in Germany

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By Matthew Holroyd with AFP
The Ibizagate scandal brought down the government of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in 2019 before he returned to power.
The Ibizagate scandal brought down the government of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in 2019 before he returned to power.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Michael Gruber
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German police have arrested a private detective, who was allegedly behind the "Ibizagate" scandal that brought down the Austrian government in 2019.

A "40-year-old Austrian citizen" was arrested on a European arrest warrant, a Berlin police spokeswoman said on Friday. His identity was confirmed by Austrian prosecutors, who had been searching for him.

The "Ibizagate" scandal broke in 2019 when a hidden camera video showed Heinz-Christian Strache - the president of the ruling Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) and future Vice-Chancellor - saying he was willing to compromise himself with Russian interests in exchange for funding.

The senior politician was also seen and heard offering public contracts to a young woman posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch and wanting to recycle dirty money.

The recordings were made in 2017 without his knowledge in a villa in Ibiza, lending its name to the scandal.

When the video surfaced in May last year, it created mass political unrest in Austria and led to Christian Strache's resignation and the fall of the coalition government of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

The Austrian judiciary has continued to investigate the case amid theories that a private operation had sought to blackmail the former FPÖ president. The aim would have been to claim a large sum of money from Heinz-Christian Strache against a promise not to release the incriminating video.

According to the investigation and Austrian media, the video ultimately could not have been negotiated for money and was given to the journalists for publication.

The suspect, a former security consultant living in Vienna and running a detective agency in Munich, repeatedly intervened in the recorded conversation as an interpreter and mediator for alleged deals.

Investigators in Austria had already questioned the detective before he was issued with an arrest warrant and left the country. The man is accused of illegal production of sound and film recordings, among other charges.

According to the Vienna Public Prosecutor's Office, the German authorities must now decide whether to initiate surrender proceedings.

Heinz-Christian Strache said on Facebook that he was "happy" to hear about the arrest.

"I now hope for a quick and complete clarification and also for the discovery of the other accomplices, clients, and backers".

Authorities are still working to confirm the identity of the woman seen in the video, who was presented as a Russian national wanting to make investments in Austria.