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Head of Austrian state holdings group, stung by texts with Kurz, quits

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Head of Austrian state holdings group, stung by texts with Kurz, quits
Head of Austrian state holdings group, stung by texts with Kurz, quits   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021
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By Francois Murphy

VIENNA – The head of Austrian state holdings group OBAG, Thomas Schmid, stepped down on Tuesday as prosecutors investigate whether Chancellor Sebastian Kurz perjured himself in saying he was not involved in appointing Schmid and OBAG‘s supervisory board.

Text message exchanges between Kurz and Schmid, a civil servant loyal to Kurz’s conservative party, were part of a parliamentary commission’s investigation into possible corruption revealed in the so-called Ibiza sting video that brought down Kurz’s coalition with the far right in 2019.

In the texts, widely reported in Austrian media, Kurz tells Schmid before his appointment that he will get “everything you want” and Schmid expresses his thanks and “love” to Kurz. At best, the exchanges are embarrassing; at worst, they could help lead to a criminal conviction for Kurz that would threaten his job.

Kurz denies any wrongdoing and says he expects to be charged but not convicted.

“After intensive consultations within the supervisory board, the supervisory board has together with Mr Schmid come to the conclusion that the immediate termination of Mr Thomas Schmid’s role represents a necessary step for OBAG,” Austrian Holding AG (OBAG) said in a statement.

OBAG had said in April that Schmid would not stay on beyond the expiry of his term in March 2022.

The company manages assets including a 51% stake in utility Verbund, 31.5% of oil company OMV and 52.9% of Austrian Post.

OBAG Director Christine Catasta, who oversees investment management, is taking over temporarily as chief executive.

Opposition parties seized on the resignation to attack Kurz, whom they accuse of running a system of nepotistic appointments.

“The Kurz system is buckling further,” Joerg Leichtfried of the Social Democrats said in a statement, adding that Schmid’s departure was long overdue but why it happened now was unclear.

“The responsibility for this culture of arrogance and overestimating oneself lies with Chancellor Kurz, who hoisted Schmid into the job,” he added.

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