Austrian parliament to probe intelligence scandal


Vienna (AFP)

A scandal rocking Austria over raids on the domestic intelligence agency that threatens to damage the ruling far-right will be probed by parliament, the main opposition party said Tuesday.

The controversy, front-page news for the past two weeks, was sparked by police raids on senior officials at the BVT agency and at their homes in late February.

The far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) has been part of Austria's ruling coalition since December and Interior Minister Herbert Kickl is a member.

Officially the raids relate to an investigation into the now-suspended head of the BVT, Peter Gridling, and several others for alleged abuse of office.

But unusually, the operation was carried out by a police street crime unit run by an FPOe official and files were reportedly seized related to probes into far-right extremist groups.

This has raised suspicions that the aim of the raids was for the FPOe to assert more control over the BVT and to put a halt to its investigations into these groups.

After a special parliamentary session the opposition Social Democratic party (SPOe) said on Tuesday that it has exercised its right to request a parliamentary enquiry.

The party said it would formally make the request on Wednesday or Thursday and that the enquiry would likely begin this summer.

President Alexander Van der Bellen has called for a "swift and thorough clarification", calling the affair "highly unusual and irritating".

Kickl, who as chief strategist masterminded the FPOe's rise to power, has said that everything relating to the raids was above board and has accused the SPOe of seeking to score political points.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the centre-right People's Party (OeVP), who heads the coalition with the FPOe, has said the raids "conformed to the law".