Brussels’ bungs shame: As Austria’s chancellor is forced to stand down, a look at how Sebastian Kurz is just the latest EU leader to resign over corruption claims in the last decade
- Kurz announced late Saturday that he was stepping down as Austria’s chancellor
- It follows mounting pressure after prosecutors announced corruption probe
- Prosecutors allege payments made to media company for favourable coverage
- The disgraced chancellor joins a list of European leaders who have resigned
- Both Malta and Slovakia’s Prime Minister resigned over journalist murders
- Two of Germany’s most senior politicians have also been forced to resign
- Recent scandals have also struck the Czech Republic, Romania and Estonia
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced his resignation on Saturday after prosecutors said that he is a target of a corruption investigation, joining a long list of European leaders who have stepped down in similar circumstances.
Kurz and his close associates are accused of trying to secure his rise to the leadership of his party and the country with the help of manipulated polls and friendly media reports, financed with public money.
Austria’s top diplomat Alexander Schallenberg will take over the chancellery today after Kurz said he was quitting to ‘make space to prevent chaos’.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (pictured October 9) announced his resignation on Saturday after prosecutors said that he is a target of a corruption investigation
At age 35, Kurz is one of Europe’s youngest leaders and was long celebrated as a ‘whizz kid’. Pressure on him to resign started after prosecutors on Wednesday raided several locations linked to his People’s Party (OeVP).
It is understood that Kurz and nine other individuals were under investigation over claims that government money was used between 2016 and 2018 in a corrupt deal to finance ‘partially manipulated opinion polls that served an exclusively party-political interest’.
This correlates to the time period in which Kurz, already a government minister, took over the leadership of the OeVP and later that of the Alpine nation at the helm of a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe).
Prosecutors allege that payments were made to an unnamed media company – widely understood to be the Oesterreich tabloid, which was also raided on Wednesday – in return for publishing these surveys.
Kurz has denied any wrongdoing, reiterating on Saturday that allegations against him were ‘false’ and that he would seek to clear up the matter while he continues as party leader and as a lawmaker in parliament.
Austria’s disgraced outgoing chancellor joins a long list of European leaders who have had to resign over corruption claims. Here is a recap.
Germany’s leaders have come under close scrutiny since former chancellor Helmut Kohl was fined and forced to quit his post as honorary chairman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), after he admitted to managing secret funds for the party in the 1990s.
Kohl was described as ‘the greatest European leader of the second half of the 20th century’ U.S. Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton after he oversaw the end of the cold war, the reunification of Germany and the creation of the European Union during his tenure from 1982 to 1998.
But his reputation was damaged domestically by the CDU donation scandal that resulted from the party using illegal forms of financing during the 1990s.
Germany’s former chancellor Helmut Kohl (pictured right with Britain’s Margaret Thatcher) was fined and forced to quit his post as honorary chairman of the Christian Democratic Union, after he admitted to managing secret funds for the party in the 1990s
These included accepting hidden donations, the non-disclosure of cash donations, secret bank accounts and illegal wire transfers between foreign banks.
The scandal was uncovered in late 1999 and remained part of the political zeitgeist in Germany for months afterwards, becoming known as the ‘Schwarzgeldaffäre’ (‘black money affair’) and was even named as Germany word of the year in 2000.
Support for the CDU dropped off considerably, with opinion polls suggesting the party would have received 45 percent of the popular vote beforehand, a figure that dropped to 31 percent by February 2000.
Two of the leading CDU figures – Kohl and Wolfgang Schäuble – lost their political influence as a result of the scandal, with Angela Merkel and Roland Koch going on to become the most powerful conservative politicians in Germany.
Over a decade later, in February 2012, Christian Wulff resigned as German president following an accusation of influence peddling.
Also a member of the CDU, Wulff had served as minister-president of the state of Lower Saxony from 2003 to 2010 before being elected to the presidency in the presidential election of 2010.
German president Christian Wulff (pictured in 2012) resigned as German president in February 2012 following an accusation of influence peddling. He was later cleared of taking payments
But two years into his term he was forced to resign when he faced the prospect of being prosecuted over corruption allegations relating to his time as minister-president.
The allegations were first reported in December 2011, with questions raised over his relationship with a number of affluent businessmen and, in particular, the purchase of a house for which Wulff had accepted a loan from an entrepreneur family.
In the build up to the scandal breaking, Wulff was said to have tried to influence the media coverage, but additional investigations were launched into his political dealing with various entrepreneurs with whom he was friends with – some of which he went on family holidays with.
As it was unclear who paid for the holidays, Wulff was later accused of favouritism and unethical behavior.
He resigned the day after the district attorney’s office in Hanover had requested the lifting of his immunity, but two years later – on 27 February 2014 – he was cleared of accepting payments that amounted to some 700 euros.
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat resigned on December 1, 2019, after daily demonstrations over accusations that he interfered to protect associates in an investigation into the 2017 murder of anti-corruption investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed by a car bomb.
Following her murder, Muscat promised to ‘leave no stone unturned’ in the investigation, but the opposition blamed him for what they called a ‘political murder’ and the collapse of rule of law in the country.
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat (pictured in May, 2019) resigned on December 1, 2019, after daily demonstrations over accusations that he interfered to protect associates in an investigation into the 2017 murder of anti-corruption blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia
Daily demonstrations followed the 2017 murder of anti-corruption investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed by a car bomb
In the years leading up to his resignation, he spoke little about Ms Galizia’s death and of periodic protests that took place in the country. Government employees, meanwhile, were tasked with regularly clearing a memorial to her at the Great Siege Monument in Valletta.
Muscat was accused of failing to take action against two close aids – his chief of staff Keith Schembri, a childhood friend, and Konrad Mizzi, tourism and formerly energy minister, whose links to the underworld had been subject to investigations.
During 2019 European elections, Muscat was suggested as a possible successor to Donald Tusk as head of the European Council, but his bid failed after his image was severely damaged by the murder and the perceived erosion of rule of law in Malta.
Police and forensic experts inspect the wreckage of a car bomb that killed journalist and blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia close to her home in Bidnija, Malta, on October 16, 2017
People holding placards and photos of killed journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, stage a protest outside the office of the prime minister in Valletta in 2019
In November 2019, Muscat’s position was rocked with the corruption implication of Schembri in relation to the murder case, and the arrest of businessman Yorgen Fenech.
On 25 November, Muscat granted presidential pardon to Melvin Theuma, who was considered to be the middleman between those who carried out Caruana Galizia’s murder, and the masterminds. He later denied the same pardon to Fenech.
On December 1, he announced his would step down as Prime Minister after a leadership contest, and finally gave his final speech as Prime Minister in January.
In February 2018, the double murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, who had been probing alleged ties between top politicians and the Italian mafia, plunged Slovakia into a political crisis.
The atrocity caused outrage in the country, and a political divide formed between the ruling party and opposition putting pressure on Prime Minister Robert Fico.
Police said that well-known businessman Mária Trošková – an assistant to Fico – could have ties to the Italian mafia Ndrangheta.
Prime Minister Robert Fico (pictured in 2016) resigned in March after the public backlash over the killings of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee
Demonstrators light up their mobile phones as they take part in a protest rally marking the first anniversary of the murder of the investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova in Bratislava, Slovakia, February 21, 2019
Prosecutors have said that Trošková tasked Alena Zsuzsová with arranging Kuciak’s murder. She then tasked Zoltán Andruskó, who ordered Tomáš Szabó and Miroslav Marček, to carry out the murder. The case is still ongoing amid re-trails.
Fico announced his resignation in March, but set out key conditions that needed to be met for him to do so – including that 2016 election results had to be respected.
On March 15, Slovakia’s President Kiska formally accepted Fico’s resignation – along with his entire cabinet, followed a month later by the interior minister and the police chief.
In June 2013, the Czech Republic’s centre-right Prime Minister Petr Necas was forced to resign after being implicated in a corruption and abuse of power scandal involving his top aide and mistress.
His resignation came after the country’s Police Unit for Combating Organized Crime and the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in Olomouc launched a raid targeting organized crime, which saw some of the closest advisors and collaborators to the Prime Minister targeted and arrested in relation to unspecified misconduct.
In June 2013, the Czech Republic’s centre-right prime minister Petr Necas (pictured answering questions in June, 2013) was forced to resign after being implicated in a corruption and abuse of power scandal involving his top aide and mistress
Among them was Necas’ Chief of staff and mistress Jana Nagyová. It was later announced by prosecutors that she and members of the Military Intelligence Service had been accused of abuse of power and corruption.
The mistress, now his wife, was given a suspended prison sentence for illicit use of military intelligence to spy on Necas’s wife in 2012, in the hope of speeding their divorce, without the official approval of the Defence Minister.
Despite pressure from the public and opposition parties, Necas repeatedly refused to resign, but finally bowed to the pressure on June 17. In the snap election that followed, his part was marginalised to just 16 seats.
In 2014, police charged him with bribery.
In June 2015, Romania’s National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) opened a criminal investigation into then-Social Democrat Prime Minister Victor Ponta, alleging forgery, complicity in tax evasion and money laundering when he was a lawyer.
He was also accused of a conflict of interest for naming former business associate Dan Sova to several positions while he was Prime Minister.
Despite calls to resign, Ponta refused, and the Romanian Chamber of Deputies refused a request from prosecutors to lift the Prime Minister’s immunity.
A deadly nightclub blaze drew tens of thousands of protesters into the streets in Bucharest in October 2015, forcing Social Democrat Prime Minister Victor Ponta (pictured 2015) to resign
Pictured: Romanians fill the Calea Victoriei, a main avenue of the Romanian capital, during a large protest in Bucharest calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Victor Ponta after the Colectiv nightclub, the venue of a deadly fire which killed 64 people
He later resigned as president of the Social Democratic Party, saying he wanted to safeguard the party’s image while he faced corruption charges. Soon after, the DNA formally indicted Ponta, initiating procedures to freeze a part of his assets.
He took a leave of absence between the end of July and early August to rest, with the case being sent to trial in September when Ponta being charged along with four other defendants.
In late October 2015, a deadly nightclub blaze killed 64 people and drew tens of thousands of protesters into the streets in Bucharest, with 25,000 people taking to the streets, finally forcing Ponta to resign.
In May 2018, Ponta was cleared of fraud and other charges by the country’s high court after a corruption investigation.
On January 13, 2021, Estonia’s Prime Minister Juri Ratas stepped down after a corruption investigation was launched into his Centre Party over its ties with a property firm.
Estonia’s Prosecutor General suspected the party of ‘criminal involvement’ in an influence peddling scandal involving businessman Hillar Teder.
Rata claimed he had no knowledge of the affair, and that he had done nothing wrong. Despite this, he chose to take political responsibility and resign over the scandal.
He remained the head of a caretaker government until a new coalition was formed.
On January 13, 2021, Estonia’s prime minister Juri Ratas (pictured in 2020) stepped down after a corruption investigation was launched into his Centre Party over ties with a property firm
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