Former Austria far-right leader leaves politics

Vienna, Oct 1 (AFP/APP):The disgraced former leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) announced Tuesday “a total withdrawal from politics and public life” after scandals centred around him sent the party plummeting in snap elections.

Heinz-Christian Strache, who led the FPOe for 14 years, was forced to resign in May as vice-chancellor and party chief over the so-called “Ibiza-gate” tapes which showed him appearing to offer public contracts to a woman he believed was a Russian oligarch’s niece in return for campaign help.

In order to “avoid at all costs an ordeal or any division for the FPOe”, Strache told journalists Tuesday that he was “suspending” his membership of the party until allegations against him are fully investigated and that he would undertake a “total withdrawal from politics and public life”.

“I do all this with the big plea to continue the unity within the party family, to fight injustices and defamation together and not allow any split,” he said in a statement broadcast on national televison.

The tapes scandal brought down the government, in which the FPOe had served as a junior coalition partner to the centre-right People’s Party (OeVP), and led to early elections last week, in which the FPOe was harshly punished by voters.

The party plunged to 16 percent, down 10 points from its results in the last parliamentary election in 2017.

Earlier this month yet more allegations emerged against Strache, this time concerning his use of FPOe party funds.

While apologising for his mistakes, Strache continued to insist on Tuesday that he had been the victim of a conspiracy targeting the party before the elections and dismissed all allegations against him as false.

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