Judge questioned Austria's Kurz as part of perjury investigation


FILE PHOTO: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz arrives for a European People's Party (EPP) meeting in Berlin, Germany, September 9, 2021. REUTERS/Michele Tantussi/File Photo

VIENNA (Reuters) - A judge questioned Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz for hours this month as part of an investigation by anti-corruption prosecutors into whether Kurz gave false testimony to a parliamentary commission, Kurz said on Wednesday.

Kurz could be charged with perjury as a result of the investigation, which began in May. He denies any wrongdoing.

The investigation is also a serious political challenge for Kurz. No sitting chancellor has been charged with a crime and it is unclear whether his conservative party's junior coalition partner, the left-wing Greens, would maintain their alliance if he were charged or found guilty.

"I am glad that after months of false accusations I had the opportunity for several hours in early September to comment before a judge on the false accusations," Kurz said in a statement confirming the long-awaited questioning.

The Justice Ministry decided in July that Kurz would be questioned by a judge because of his special status as chancellor rather than by prosecutors, as is usually the case.

Kurz has said he expects to be charged but not convicted and that he would not step down if charged.

The investigation relates to testimony Kurz gave to a parliamentary commission created by opposition parties to look into possible corruption under a previous coalition between his party and the far-right Freedom Party that collapsed in 2019.

Kurz told the commission he was not involved in the decision to appoint civil servant and conservative party loyalist Thomas Schmid as the sole head of Austrian state holdings group OBAG in 2019. Schmid stepped down in June.

Text messages obtained by the commission suggested the decision was ultimately taken by Kurz even though it was officially that of OBAG's supervisory board, which appointed Schmid on March 27, 2019. In one exchange on March 13, Kurz told Schmid: "You'll get everything you want."

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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