Leader of Austrian corruption investigation quits

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 18, 2012 9:35 AM
Leader of Austrian corruption investigation quits

VIENNA (Reuters) - The head of an Austrian parliamentary committee investigating corruption allegations against Chancellor Werner Faymann and others stepped down on Tuesday, saying she hoped new leadership would help keep its work on course.

With elections next year and speculation growing that political parties might team up to halt the committee's work to avoid more embarrassment, Gabriela Moser faced increasing pressure over her leadership.

"I am clearing the way for the panel to keep working," the opposition Greens politician said, stressing the importance of unearthing corruption and restoring trust in elected officials.

"I don't see why the government parties are still using me as a bogeywoman or scapegoat to be able to argue for their desire to wind (the panel) down and cut it off," Moser told Austrian radio.

The panel's work has enthralled Austria for months and fuelled perceptions that politics are rife with corruption given the cozy interplay of money and politics in the affluent republic.

Criminal inquiries continue into a slew of alleged graft cases.

Faymann and a top aide and being investigated to see whether they illegally pressured the OBB state railways and Asfinag motorway agency to place flattering ads with friendly newspapers during his tenure as transport minister before he became chancellor.

Faymann, a Social Democrat, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and said he was ready to appear before the parliamentary panel if asked to testify.

Karlheinz Kopf, parliamentary leader of Faymann's conservative OVP coalition partners, has said he was not prepared to risk a government collapse by forcing Faymann to appear against the Social Democrats' wishes.

Parliamentary leaders are to meet on Wednesday to decide how to proceed.

Eight out of 10 Austrians surveyed in a European Union Eurobarometer poll published in February said corruption was a major problem, up from 61 percent in 2009.

Only 11 percent surveyed in March said their politicians were not corrupt.

The investigative panel has grilled officials, lobbyists and business executives about suspected dirty deals.

It has chased up payoffs and perks financed by Telekom Austria, an ex-monopoly still partially state-owned; looked into whether kickbacks flowed in the 2004 privatization of public housing; and examined the award of emergency service radio network contracts, among other cases.

Its work helped prompt parliament to adopt a sweeping ethics package that sheds more light on politicians' finances, hoping to draw a line under the scandals.

Faymann told reporters after a cabinet meeting he was still prepared to testify if invited, saying no minister could refuse such a summons but the matter was up to MPs to decide.

He ruled out early elections before the next regularly scheduled ones that have to be held by September 2013 and where eurosceptic right-wing parties are poised to do well.

(Reporting by Michael Shields; editing by Jason Neely)