Sebastian Kurz of Austria resigns as chancellor amid corruption investigation

BERLIN. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said he would resign following corruption allegations less than two years after his re-election.

Kurz’s departure is the latest blow to Western European conservatives, who have been fighting for the past few years. Christian Democratic Union of Germany lost a national election last month after leading the government for the past 16 years under Chancellor Angela Merkel. Conservatives are opposed from France to Spain and Portugal.

“In the last few days, I was accused of criminal acts,” Kurz told a news conference Saturday night at the Foreign Ministry headquarters in Vienna. “These accusations date back to 2016. They are false and I am convinced that I will be able to clarify the matter.”

Kurz said he had no choice but to resign because his coalition partner, the Green environmentalists, had signaled that they would no longer support a government with him as chancellor.

Kurz said he had proposed Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, a fellow Conservative, to replace him as chancellor. Kurz said he will remain chairman of his Austrian People’s Party and keep his seat in parliament.

Austrian corruption prosecutors said this week that they had searched Kurz’s chancellery and party offices, as well as other government offices on Wednesday. They said they were investigating Mr. Kurz and nine other people for possible breach of trust.

The investigation centers on the suspicion that finance ministry funds were used between 2016 and 2018 to pay for the publication of rigged opinion polls favoring an unidentified party in an Austrian newspaper, prosecutors said after raids of the Wednesday.

Kurz has not been charged and has denied wrongdoing.

On Saturday, Kurz said the allegations against him were based on misleading text messages he had written years ago, some of which were recently published in Austrian media.

He said these had been written in the heat of the moment, adding: “I am also just a human being with emotions and mistakes.”

For the past four years, Kurz has been a rare star of a sick European conservative movement. He became chancellor in 2017 after winning his first election as his party leader, but dissolved his coalition with the far-right Libertad party in May 2019 after the latter became embroiled in a separate corruption scandal.

After winning a subsequent election in September 2019, Kurz formed a new coalition with the Greens.

Write to Bertrand Benoit in bertrand.benoit@wsj.com

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