Austrian far-right ministers to resign amid corruption fallout

Sacking of Interior Minister Kickl is set to trigger a walk-out of FPO ministers from Chancellor Kurz's government.

    Chancellor Kurz called for the snap elections on Saturday after the video scandal was revealed [Visar Kryeziu/AP]
    Chancellor Kurz called for the snap elections on Saturday after the video scandal was revealed [Visar Kryeziu/AP]

    All remaining ministers from Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPO) are to resign, a party spokesman said, after Interior Minister Herbert Kickl was fired in the fallout from a corruption scandal that has brought down the government.

    The ministers would make good on their threat to resign en masse if Kickl was forced out, the spokesman told the national Austrian Press Agency agency late on Monday.

    Conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who called for fresh elections on Saturday over the affair, said Kickl would have to leave office to ensure a "complete, transparent investigation" into the scandal that has ended the right-wing coalition between Kurz's People's Party (OVP) and FPO.

    FPO's Heinz-Christian Strache stepped down as vice-chancellor and party leader on Saturday after video published by German media appeared to show him offering government contracts in return for campaign help to a fake Russian backer in a villa on the Spanish resort island of Ibiza.

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    In the footage, Strache appears to hint at ways political donations could escape legal scrutiny.

    The other ministers who are now set to follow Kickl out of the government include his colleagues at the foreign, defence, transport and social affairs ministries.

    Kurz said the vacant posts would be filled with experts or senior civil servants until elections which President Van der Bellen has suggested be held in early September.

    A date will be fixed after Van der Bellen has spoken to all party leaders.

    Norbert Hofer, who is infrastructure minister and took over the FPO leadership from Strache on Sunday, said Kickl had done "nothing wrong".

    Kickl was FPO's secretary-general at the time when any political donations would have been made. Strache on Saturday denied the party had received illegal funds.

    "I feel very sorry that such a great government project ends so soon ... I think this government was very popular," Hofer told a press conference earlier on Monday.

    'Final straw'

    Kurz has said the recordings were the final straw in a string of FPO-related scandals, which have dogged the coalition since its formation in late 2017.

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    The most damaging recent controversy linked to Kickl was last year when the interior minister ordered raids on the country's own domestic intelligence agency BVT.

    Numerous documents were seized, raising fears among Austria's Western partners about the possibility of leaks to Moscow.

    The FPO has a cooperation agreement with President Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party.

    SOURCE: News agencies