Austrian prosecutors drop bribery investigation into ex-finance minister

FILE PHOTO: Budget speech during a session of the Austrian parliament in Vienna

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austrian anti-corruption prosecutors said on Tuesday they had dropped a bribery investigation into former conservative Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel for lack of proof.

The investigation was one of many into potential corruption stemming from the so-called Ibiza sting video, in which the then-leader of the far-right Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache, was secretly filmed making allegations about corruption in Austria that he later said he did not mean.

Many of those investigations continue.

The emergence of the footage in 2019 prompted Strache to resign as vice chancellor of Austria and led to the collapse of his party's ruling coalition with the conservatives, then led by Sebastian Kurz, a close ally of Bluemel.

The investigation into Bluemel, who has denied the allegations, focused on a 2017 text-message exchange between him and a manager at a gambling company, in which the manager requested a meeting with the then foreign minister, Kurz, to discuss a tax problem in a foreign country and referred to a potential donation to their party.

"For a crime to have been committed in the present case there needed to be either a donation or a concrete offer of a criminally relevant advantage in exchange for an official's action. A concrete donation by the gambling company to the party could not be proven," the Central Prosecutors' Office for Economic Crimes and Corruption (WKStA) said in a statement.

It could also not be shown with sufficient certainty that Bluemel passed on the request, or the reference to a donation, or that a potentially criminal offer was made at any meeting between the company and the minister, it added.

Kurz led his conservatives to victory in a parliamentary election following the government's collapse in 2019 but was forced to resign as chancellor in 2021 when he was placed under investigation over corruption allegations. He is also under investigation for possible perjury in testimony to a parliamentary commission. He denies any wrongdoing.

Both Bluemel and Kurz have quit politics. Their party remains in government and leads a coalition with the Greens formed in 2020.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Sharon Singleton)