Questions and answers: Showdown of a confidant: what you need to know about the sub-committee on the ÖVP affair in Austria

A good year after allegations of corruption against the then Chancellor Sebastian Kurz became public, Austria is again being rocked by a political earthquake.

Questions and answers: Showdown of a confidant: what you need to know about the sub-committee on the ÖVP affair in Austria

A good year after allegations of corruption against the then Chancellor Sebastian Kurz became public, Austria is again being rocked by a political earthquake. For a few weeks, the statements of the former Kurz confidant, ex-finance minister and former boss of ÖBAG (participation management of the Republic of Austria), Thomas Schmid, have been causing a stir. In talks with the Economic and Corruption Public Prosecutor's Office (WKStA), he unpacked against the ex-Chancellor and a number of party friends, high-ranking politicians and entrepreneurs who were involved in the advertising scandal. Schmid will now appear before the U-Committee on Thursday.

The day before, the SPÖ and FPÖ had rounded up the Austrian National Council for a special session. This advised on the latest allegations by Thomas Schmid. Chancellor Karl Nehammer also commented on this for the first time. He and his party, the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP), vehemently defend themselves against the allegations. The party accuses Schmid of "prejudice" and doubts the truthfulness of his statements. What does that mean for Schmid and the Kurz process? Answers to the most important questions:

On Thursday, November 3rd, the ex-ÖBAG boss Thomas Schmid will testify in the ÖVP corruption investigation committee. Schmid had previously declined an invitation from the committee. The Federal Administrative Court therefore imposed a fine of 6,000 euros. Only after Thomas Schmid had shared explosive information with the WKStA did he agree to the U-Committee.

It is considered likely that Schmid will repeat his allegations before the Corruption Committee. The following people, among others, are currently incriminated by his confession before the WKStA:

The presumption of innocence applies to all accused.

Thomas Schmid himself became a suspect through the chat logs with Sebastian Kurz and party friends that became public last year. He plays a key role in the Kurz cause because he mediated between those involved and thus promoted Kurz's political career and the advancement of the ÖVP. If the allegations are true, the accused face several years in prison. According to media reports, ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz could be behind bars for ten years. Thomas Schmid would also be affected by a prison sentence.

However, his testimony before the WKStA could mitigate his sentence. Schmid could thus obtain leniency status. If witnesses make a significant contribution to a case being clarified, the court can in return reduce the sentence – provided that the person himself is actually in the dock.

The ÖVP. The WKStA had asked the U-Committee to question Schmid. The ÖVP parliamentary group has not wanted to agree to this so far. In order not to jeopardize the investigations, the Ministry of Justice turned to the Constitutional Court (VfGH). It regulates how the U-Committee can deal with the ongoing investigations. The Constitutional Court is to confirm to the Ministry of Justice that only investigation results taken on file are handed over to the U-Committee. Accordingly, Schmid should only be asked about certain topics on Thursday, such as the leg scraper tool, Kurz's role in filling certain posts and the alleged false statement by Sebastian Kurz.

Now that the Ministry of Justice has gone before the Constitutional Court, Schmid must not be confronted with questions about which he has not already testified. Nothing really new can therefore be expected from the U-Committee. Austria's Justice Minister Alma Zadic said in "Standard" that she was obliged to protect the ongoing investigations. "Until the constitutional court has decided, a questioning of MMag. Thomas Schmid in the investigative committee on those areas that could endanger the criminal investigations of the WKStA must therefore be omitted."

At the special session in the National Council, the SPÖ called on the green coalition partner to end cooperation with the ÖVP. The Social Democrats have already announced that they will apply for new elections. Without exception, there is backing from all opposition parties. They had indicated that they wanted to join the application. Last year, however, it was considered more likely that the coalition would break up over the ÖVP affair than it is now.

Meanwhile, the right-wing FPÖ is threatening to file a motion of no vote against the coalition government. In addition, she has requested a constitutional amendment, according to which the President of the National Council can be voted out. According to the current legal situation, the President of the National Council cannot be voted out of office. For the motion to pass, the FPÖ needs a two-thirds majority in the council. But that won't happen. The current President of the National Council, Wolfgang Sobotka, will continue to hold office for the time being – despite Schmid's accusations.

Sources: "Der Standard", ORF.at, Plus24.at

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