VIENNA (Rahnuma): Austrian Vice-Chancellor and leader of the right-wing populist Freedom Party Heinz-Christian Strache on Saturday declared his resignation over a scandal in which he appears on video offering government contracts in exchange for political support.
At a press conference here on Saturday morning, Strache said he would step down from all political roles.
Transport Minister Norbert Hofer will take over the leadership of Freedom Party, he said.
The secretly-filmed footage was first revealed by German news outlets the Sueddeutsche Zeitung and Der Spiegel on Friday, showing Strache and his long-time party colleague and MP Johann Gudenus speaking to individuals purportedly representing a Russian oligarch.
In the more than seven hours of footage, a woman posing as the niece of the billionaire oligarch expresses a wish to purchase Austria’s most-read daily newspaper the Kronen Zeitung, and use it to provide political support to Strache’s Freedom Party.
Strache in turn states that many possibilities would be made available if this were to occur, such as the provision of construction contracts.
The informal meeting took place on the resort island of Ibiza in 2017, shortly before the federal election that year.
Despite Strache and his party insisting that no funds exchanged hands and that it was clearly expressed that laws and regulations would have to be followed, local media reported on murmurs from within political circles that Strache’s position is untenable and his resignation inevitable.
Flanked by other ministers from the Freedom Party on Saturday, Strache told media that he had been victim of a targeted campaign.
He said the secret nature of the filming was illegal, and his behaviour was induced by alcohol consumption.
In addition he never offered or received anything illegal, and said he would fight the allegations with all legal means available.
He nonetheless apologized for the incident, including to Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, as well as to his wife Philippa.
MP Johann Gudenus, who also was present in the footage, has also resigned from politics.