Yet another scandal has hit the far-right Freedom Party and former functionaries Heinz-Christian Strache and Johann Gudenus. Both are already under investigation on the basis of the Ibiza video. The Ministry of Justice lists a total of 19 accusations, among them: Prohibited intervention, bribery, suspicion of the establishment of an anti-state connection, a blackmail attempt and even the transfer of cocaine to other customers.
Now the far-right duo are under investigation in association with yet another accusation of bribery – this time relating to FPÖ’s time in government. The FPÖ is accused of having made political promises to the Novomatic gambling group, in exchange for which FPÖ politician Peter Sidlo got an unearned seat on the board of directors of the Casinos Austria. Novomatic currently holds over 17% of the shares of Casinos Austria.
What Strache has to do with Novomatic and Casinos Austria
An anonymous witness provided the prosecutor’s office with documents purporting to show thatformer FPÖ-politician Johann Gudenus asked Novomatic board member Harald Neumann to have former FPÖ district councilor Peter Sidlo appointed as financial director of Casinos Austria. “In close coordination with Heinz-Christian Strache, the FPÖ agreed in return to support Novomatic in a benevolent manner. The subject was in particular the granting of a casino license in Vienna and a national online gaming license,” according to a corruption report provided to public broadcaster ORF.
Gudenus allegedly promised that if the FPÖ’s were to win the 2020 Vienna elections, the small gambling bet (i.e. slot machine) law would be re-activated. The FPÖ’s then-State Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Hubert Fuchs, is said to have made the deal with Novomatic owner Johann Graf when the two were in London for a gambling conference, according to the news programme ZIB2. All those involved deny the accusations.
Strache’s Home Searched
The news blew up in mid-August when Strache’s private residence was raided and searched. “On 12.08.2019, my private rooms were searched due to an anonymous report and the accusation of bribery made against me,” Strache confirmed in a Facebook post. He condemned it as “just another political attack on my person”. Johann Gudenus’ home was also reportedly searched, and his and Strache’s cell phones confiscated. Investigators also raided a house in East Tyrol that belongs to a branch of the FPÖ, discovering a locked safe containing several hard drives. Other house searches also took place in the homes of Neumann and Sidlo.
It remains to be seen whether concrete criminal charges will flow from these investigations, and whether these developments will affect voters’ choices in late September.
(Picture copyright: Gregor Tatschl)