Austrian Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel prepares to make a statement at the Finance Ministry in Vienna, Austria, February 11 2021. REUTERS/LISI NIESNER
Austrian Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel prepares to make a statement at the Finance Ministry in Vienna, Austria, February 11 2021. REUTERS/LISI NIESNER

Vienna — Austrian prosecutors on Thursday raided the home of finance minister Gernot Bluemel, a close ally of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, on suspicion of bribery involving a gambling company seeking help with foreign taxes.

Earlier on Thursday Bluemel issued a statement saying his home had been raided and that his conservative People’s Party had not accepted donations from slot-machine maker Novomatic, a company that is being investigated in relation to other corruption allegations.

The anticorruption prosecutors’ office said that Bluemel is under investigation on suspicion of bribery and corruption offences, along with two other people, and that it has carried out other raids on Thursday at homes and company premises.

After Bluemel mentioned Novomatic by name, the prosecutors said they suspect a manager at an unnamed gambling company offered to donate money to an unspecified political party in exchange for Austrian officials’ help with a potential tax claim against it abroad.

“We would never and never did accept donations from gambling firms, especially if in addition something were expected in exchange," Bluemel said in his statement. Separately, Novomatic denied donating to any party.

“Austrian companies’ demands abroad are presented to politicians daily and are perfectly normal if they involve securing Austrian jobs," Bluemel said.

Anticorruption prosecutors have been investigating allegations that under a previous coalition between Kurz’s conservatives and the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), a deal was struck by government officials and Novomatic to appoint an FPO member to the board of Casinos Austria, a company in which both the government and Novomatic owned stakes, in exchange for gambling licences for Novomatic.

During the coalition with the FPO, Bluemel held the powerful post of government co-ordinator as a minister in the chancellor’s office, which involves negotiating policy and appointments with the other party in the coalition.

Reuters

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