Scandal in Austria’s Freedom Party; ties to Putin and Trump

By | May 19, 2019

Politico reports:

Turns out Russian collusion isn’t a “witch hunt hoax” after all. At least not in Austria.

The country’s government collapsed on Saturday after Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said he was pulling the plug on his ruling coalition after just 17 months in office.

The move came barely 24 hours after the release of a bombshell video showing Heinz-Christian Strache, the far-right leader of his junior coalition partner, trying to trade public contracts for party donations from a woman he believed to be the wealthy niece of a Russian oligarch.

“Enough is enough,” Kurz said in a brief statement to the press from his baroque office in Vienna, describing the many challenges he faced in recent months in dealing with Strache’s Freedom Party, which despite its alignment with the chancellor’s center-right People’s Party on policy issues remained a lightning rod for criticism with its racist comments and other controversies. [Continue reading…]

In December, 2016, Business Insider reported:

President-elect Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, met with the leader of a far-right Austrian political party that has close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Austrian leader said.

The Freedom Party leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, wrote on his Facebook page Monday that he met with Flynn “and a few other high-ranking US politicians” a few weeks ago at Trump Tower.

He noted in the post that his party had recently signed a cooperation deal with Putin’s United Russia party, which “outlined plans for regular meetings and collaboration where suitable on economic, business, and political projects,” The New York Times reported on Tuesday. [Continue reading…]

Der Spiegel reports:

A snow-white vacation house on a hill, a few kilometers from Ibiza Town. Three bedrooms, four bathrooms, an outdoor pool and a separate guest house with around 500 square meters (5,382 square feet) of living space for 1,000 euros a night.

The group mingling on the terrace on the evening of July 24, 2017, drinking champagne, eating tuna tartare and sushi, was discussing delicate topics: How could they make sure that a Russian investor was awarded contracts from Austrian businesses and the government?

They were thinking big. Nothing seemed impossible. They discussed casino licenses, the sale of an old luxury hotel, contracts for highway construction — all of it for the Russian investor. They even discussed a takeover of the Kronen Zeitung, one of Austria’s most widely circulated newspapers.

The group included a woman who was supposedly from Russia, an Austrian woman with Serbian roots and a master’s degree, and three Austrians in leisure attire.

At that moment, two of them were already on their way to the center of political power: Heinz-Christian Strache, head of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), and Johann Gudenus, a member of the federal board of the FPÖ and a former deputy mayor of Vienna who was also the husband of the Serbian-born woman.

Nearly three months after the meeting in the villa, Austrians would go to the polls to elect a new National Council, the country’s lower house of parliament. Another two months after that, Strache would be sworn in as vice chancellor of Austria. Gudenus was promoted to head of their party’s parliamentary group.

In Ibiza, as the two talked merrily about million-euro deals, they seemed like drinking buddies on vacation. But since December 2017, they have helped chart the course of the federal government in Vienna. The FPÖ is part of Austria’s governing coalition, having emerged from the last election as a kingmaker for Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP).

The two men had been sitting together for six hours on that warm evening by the time a dark suspicion crept over Strache: “Trap, trap, it’s a trap,” he whispered to his neighbor, Gudenus. But soon enough, his worries seemed to disappear. “It’s not a trap,” Gudenus assured him.

But the FPÖ leader was right. The meeting was a trap. The villa was bugged and outfitted with several hidden cameras.

The purported Russian woman, Alyona Makarova, who claimed to have Latvian citizenship as well, was pretending to be the investment-hungry niece of a rich oligarch. Her story: She wanted to invest over 250 million euros in Austria, as capital that “cannot be deposited at a bank” because it is “in fact, not entirely legal,” the woman’s companion candidly explained.

The videos from that evening in Ibiza were made available to DER SPIEGEL and Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

The recordings are politically explosive. They reveal highly questionable views of Austrian politicians currently in office. They show that these politicians were willing to boost the FPÖ’s election results with the help of Russian money. The promises made that evening and the practices they revealed could potentially be criminal for someone in political office. [Continue reading…]

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