Austria's Kurz being investigated by anti-corruption prosecutors

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By Francois Murphy

VIENNA (Reuters) -Anti-corruption prosecutors are investigating Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz over possible false testimony to a parliamentary commission investigating the fallout from the so-called Ibiza sting video that felled a previous government.

The commission is looking into possible corruption under Kurz's coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), a coalition that collapsed in 2019 after a video sting showing then FPO leader and Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache offering to fix government contracts before he took office.

The video offered various angles of inquiry, including whether appointments to posts at state-owned companies were made correctly, although Strache says he was drunk and not speaking seriously. Opposition lawmakers in the commission have accused Kurz and his party of not fully cooperating with it.

"I knew there was a legal requirement to speak the truth in the commission and therefore of course always answered (questions) truthfully," Kurz told a news conference on Wednesday announcing that he and his chief of staff had been placed under investigation.

Kurz added that the questions were often about what happened several years earlier and an attempt to catch him out. If prosecuted and convicted, he faces up to three years in prison.

Kurz and his party have a commanding lead in opinion polls but the investigation is a fresh blow after his closest ally, Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel, was placed under investigation in February on suspicion of bribery involving a gambling company seeking help with foreign taxes.

Strache mentioned that gambling company, Novomatic, in the video filmed on the island of Ibiza, but he later said his remarks were false and apologised to the firm.

Bluemel, Novomatic and Strache deny wrongdoing.

The commission has looked into the appointment in 2019 of conservative loyalist Thomas Schmid as the chief executive of OBAG, which manages Austria's stakes in companies including oil firm OMV. Text messages examined by the commission showed Kurz telling Schmid before then he would get "everything you want".

The Prosecutors' Office for Economic Affairs and Corruption confirmed an investigation was under way into Kurz.

"It is regarding the allegation that a false statement was made before the Ibiza commission of inquiry in connection with the establishment of OBAG," a spokesman said.

Newspaper Der Standard said the investigation is about whether Kurz discussed Schmid's appointment with him beforehand and whether he was involved in selecting members of OBAG's supervisory board, both of which Kurz denied at the commission.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy and Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich; Editing by Alison Williams and Giles Elgood)