Austrian Police Searches Finance Minister’s Home in Bribery Probe

Опубликовано: 16 Февраль 2021

Gernot BlümelGernot Blümel, Austrian Federal Minister of Finance. (Photo: Austrian Government)

Anti-corruption police searched the home of Austrian Finance Minister, Gernot Blümel, as part of a bribery investigation involving the country’s gambling giant Novomatic and several high-ranking political figures.

The country’s Public Prosecutor’s Office (WKStA) issued a statement last week announcing an investigation against Blümel, a member of the right-wing Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) and a close ally of Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz.

“The investigations are based on the suspicion that a responsible person at a gambling company offered donations to a political party in return for support from officials of the Republic of Austria in a tax claim case abroad which is threatening the company,” the WKStA said.

Shortly after the anti-corruption police and the Federal Criminal Police Office conducted the searches, Blümel denied receiving bribes and said he’d do anything to clarify and refute the allegations.

“I would never have, and have never, accepted donations from gambling companies, especially not if there was also a quid pro quo involved,” Blümel said during a press conference at which reporters were not allowed to ask any questions.

Novomatic replied to the allegations and denied making donations to any party. According to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, Austria’s law enforcement also searched the gambling company’s premises on Thursday morning.

However, published several messages Blümel and Novomatic chief Harald Neumann allegedly exchanged over the years. The messages indicate that Blümel has been opening doors for Neumann, even those of Prime Minister Kurz.

“Good morning, I have a request: I need a short appointment with Kurz (firstly because of a donation and secondly regarding a problem that we have in Italy! Do you think it will work out this week ?? Ig Harald," read one of the messages from 2017 when Blümel was a Chancellery Minister in the first Kurz government.

Prosecutors are investigating what kind of donation he was talking about and whether Neumann expected Austria to intervene in a case against Novomatic in Italy, according to profil.

Both Blümel and Novomatic said they’re cooperating with local authorities to clarify the allegations.

The FPÖ has been involved in other corruption scandals. In May 2019, the so-called Ibiza affair shook Austria’s political establishment, triggering the end of the country’s coalition government and resulting in the resignation of the then vice-chancellor and head of the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) Heinz-Christian Strache.

A secretly recorded video showed Strache offering public contracts in exchange for support from a woman that claimed to be the niece of a Russian oligarch. The video was recorded in a luxury hotel on the Balearic island in 2017, but was leaked to German media almost two years later.

The same year, the WKStA opened another investigation into suspected bribery and illicit political funding as part of the Casino affair, a series of alleged agreements between ÖVP and FPÖ and Novomatic that would favor the gambling company.