Austria's far-right Vice Chancellor Strache steps down after video sting operation

Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache was shown in the video meeting a woman posing as a Russian oligarch's niece in 2017, and apparently offering to funnel state contracts towards a company in exchange for political and financial support.
Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache was shown in the video meeting a woman posing as a Russian oligarch's niece in 2017, and apparently offering to funnel state contracts towards a company in exchange for political and financial support.PHOTO: REUTERS

VIENNA (REUTERS) - Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache of the far-right Freedom Party said on Saturday (May 18) he was stepping down and would be replaced by Transport Minister Norbert Hofer after an embarrassing video of him was published by German media.

Strache was shown in the footage of as-yet unknown origin meeting a woman posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch in 2017, shortly before the election that brought him to power.

In the footage published by German media on Friday evening, he appears to offer to funnel contracts towards a company in exchange for political and financial support.  “It was dumb, it was irresponsible and it was a mistake,” Strache told a news conference, fighting back tears as he asked his wife and others to forgive him.

He maintained, however, that he had done nothing illegal.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is expected to make a statement later on Saturday as speculation swirled about whether the damage would be limited to Strache or if Kurz would call a snap election only a year and a half after the coalition was formed.

Kurz has repeatedly distanced himself from the Freedom Party over lesser scandals to protect his popularity. 

Strache said he would be replaced by Transport Minister Norbert Hofer, who narrowly lost 2016’s presidential election and is more popular than Strache.  “I do not in any circumstances want my wrong behaviour to provide a pretext for the government to collapse,” Strache said.