BERLIN – Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz resigned Saturday amid a corruption probe that had triggered moves to oust him, the latest dramatic twist in the turbulent career of a leader once touted as Europe’s conservative wunderkind.
In a televised address, the 35-year-old premier denied the allegations against him but recommended leadership be handed to Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg. He said he would stay on as head of his party, and take the position of leader of his conservative bloc in parliament.
“My country is more important to me than my person,” he said. “I want to make space to prevent chaos and ensure stability.”
Pressure had been building on Kurz since his offices, the headquarters of his Austrian People’s Party and the finance ministry were raided in recent days. Prosecutors said that the chancellor and nine of his close associates were being investigated on criminal charges including breach of trust, corruption and bribery.
Kurz became the youngest head of government in the world when he became chancellor in 2017 at age 31. He mixed sleek, media-savvy flair with populist rhetoric.
But investigations are looking at whether his rise was bolstered by illegal means.
Between 2016 and 2018, he and members of his inner circle are accused of being involved in using federal funds to pay for polling that appeared favorable to Kurz — and was published in the media without being declared as advertising.
It is the latest in several scandals to tarnish the Austrian chancellor.
His last government was toppled in 2019 when a the so-called “Ibiza Scandal” triggered a breakup with his far-right coalition partner. He became the country’s first postwar chancellor to be removed in a vote of no-confidence.
Kurz made his political comeback in snap elections — returning as chancellor early last year — but investigators have continued to probe corruption allegations. Last month, he was questioned for more than five hours over allegations that he committed perjury by lying to a parliamentary committee, a charge that can bring a prison sentence.
But the latest revelations — with text messages between the chancellor and his associates gathered in the investigation published in Austrian newspapers — had left his government hanging by a thread.
Opposition lawmakers had called for a vote of no-confidence Tuesday, leaving the chancellor’s future in the hands of his coalition partner, the Greens, an alliance that has never been easy.
Greens politicians have called for someone else to lead.
Kurz’s resignation is “the right step” for Austria and its reputation abroad, said Greens party member and vice chancellor, Werner Kogler.
The Washington Post’s Katharina Köll in Berlin and Rick Noack in Prague contributed to this report.