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Austria’s Vice Chancellor, Heinz-Christian Strache, Resigns After Video Sting Is Revealed

BERLIN — Austria’s far-right vice chancellor, Heinz-Christian Strache, resigned on Saturday after a secretly filmed video showed him promising government contracts to a woman claiming to be the niece of a Russian oligarch and plotting to do away with press freedom in Austria.

The resignation was the culmination of a series of scandals that have plunged Austria’s governing coalition into the biggest crisis in its 17-month history. For weeks, opposition parties have called on Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to end his controversial coalition with Mr. Strache’s Freedom Party, whose well-documented links to far-right extremists and to Russia have increasingly worried allies at home and abroad.

The video, which was filmed in a villa in Ibiza three months before the 2017 election and was obtained and published on Friday night by the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel and the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, two respected news outlets, appeared to have been filmed without Mr. Strache’s knowledge and left him severely ethically compromised. But the motive and the timing of the release remained unclear.

The footage shows Mr. Strache and another Russian-speaking Freedom party official smoking and drinking while talking to a woman who claims to be the niece of a Russian oligarch. She offers to support the Freedom Party and invest 250 million euros in Austria, and Mr. Strache offers her road-building contracts in the country.

Mr. Strache has admitted that the meeting took place but denies any wrongdoing, telling the news publication Süddeutsche Zeitung that “a lot of alcohol was consumed as the evening progressed” and that there was a “high language barrier” during the conversation.

Der Spiegel has refused to say how it obtained the video but confirmed that it knew the identity of its source. Both outlets said they did not know the motive behind its release.

The video is packed with jaw-dropping comments from Mr. Strache, who at one point compares journalists to prostitutes. He also says he would like Austria’s media landscape to resemble that of neighboring Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban has turned the country’s public media into a pro-government propaganda machine while allies have gradually bought up swathes of the private media sector.

“We want to build a media landscape like Orban did,” Mr. Strache says in the video, floating the idea of partly privatizing Austria’s public broadcaster, ORF, and encouraging a suggestion by his Russian counterpart to take over Austria’s most influential tabloid.

“If she takes over the Krone newspaper three weeks before election and brings us to spot number one, then we can talk about anything,” Mr. Strache said in the video.

News credit : Nytimes