By Nadine Schmidt, CNN
Former Austrian leader Sebastian Kurz said Thursday his political career was over, weeks after his office was raided by prosecutors investigating him and close team members on suspicion of bribery and breach of trust.
The 35-year-old said in a televised statement he would resign as leader of the center-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). He stepped down as chancellor in October, and was replaced by Alexander Schallenberg, who also announced Thursday he would step down as leader of the government. In a statement to CNN, Schallenberg said he “firmly” believes both positions — Chancellor and elected head of the party — should be held by the same person.
Kurz said he had worked “around the clock with his team” in the last decade, always with enthusiasm and joy, but said in the last few weeks his “enthusiasm began to wane,” in light of the corruption allegations against him.
“Of course I have also made mistakes,” Kurz said of his 10-year political career. “I look forward to the day when I can prove in court that the allegations against me are false.”
Kurz is under investigation over claims that government money was used to ensure positive coverage in a daily newspaper, Austrian prosecutors said in October.
He led the ÖVP into government in 2017, in coalition with the far-right Freedom Party, having turned the refugee influx of 2015 into a vote-winner at the ballot box.
He arrived in power just as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s grip in neighboring Germany appeared to be weakening. He seemed keen to dismantle at least some of her welcoming approach to migrants and take the continent down a more hardline path, despite insisting regularly on his support for the European project.
He and his government lost a vote of no-confidence in May 2019, following a corruption scandal prompted by a secretly-filmed video of his vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache. But they returned to power after winning a general election September of the same year.
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CNN’s Stephanie Halasz contributed to this report.