‘No proof of crime’: Austrian prosecutor won’t launch probe over leaked video scandal

Former Austria’s vice-chancellor, Heinz-Christian Strache © Reuters / Leonhard Foeger / Free

Austrian prosecutors have examined the scandalous videotape which cost vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache his job and said they couldn’t find any grounds to launch an investigation over its content.

“There’s no specific proof of a crime being committed coming from this [the video],” Oesterreich 1 radio revealed, citing the statement from the prosecutors.

The Justice Ministry’s General Secretary Christian Pilnacek earlier warned that there were only extracts of the footage available, which would make it impossible to assess the full context of what was going on.

A major political crisis unfolded in Austria on Friday after German papers, Spiegel and Suddeutscher Zeitung, published a video of Strache and another high-ranking member of his rightwing populist Freedom Party (FPO), Johann Gudenus, talking to a woman who claimed to be a “niece of a Russian oligarch.”

They discussed how the woman could support their campaign during the 2017 general election in Austria in exchange for future preferences in getting government contracts in the field of construction. One of the things on the agenda was her buying a majority share in a tabloid newspaper to use it as a platform to promote the FPO.

Strache called the leak of the footage a “political assassination,” announcing resignations from both the position of vice-chancellor and party’s leader. He didn’t dispute the authenticity of the tape. On the contrary, the 49-year-old insisted that it should be made public in its entirety so that everyone could see that he maintained during the meeting that at all the assistance could only be provided “within the law.”

After the news broke, thousands took to the streets of Vienna, demanding a snap election, with Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen later suggesting that the vote should take place in early September.

Suddeutscher Zeitung identified the woman speaking to the Strache and Gudenus in the video as the niece of gas tycoon Igor Makarov. But the businessman denied those claims, saying that he had no family links to that woman and was “an only child” in his family.

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