January 25, 2018 / 4:06 PM / 9 months ago

Austria investigating bugging, break-in at far-right leader's office

VIENNA (Reuters) - The office of Austrian far-right leader and vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache was broken into this week, shortly after bugging devices were discovered there, and a criminal inquiry has been launched, prosecutors said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Austria's Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache addresses the media after a cabinet meeting in Vienna, Austria, January 10, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

The break-in occurred on Wednesday night while Strache, whose Freedom Party entered the governing coalition after elections in October, was out for dinner, his spokesman said, confirming an earlier report by broadcaster Oe24.

The spokesman said the electronic surveillance devices had been discovered last week behind a mirrored wall by intelligence service specialists. “This was a routine check after moving into a new office,” he said.

Strache, who has vowed to fight political Islam, moved into his office at the baroque Palais Dietrichstein after joining the government a month ago.

“We have launched an investigation and are waiting for a police report,” a spokeswoman for Vienna prosecutors said. The motive for the bugging devices and break-in were not yet known, according to the FPO-run interior ministry.

The revelations coincided with a scandal involving the Freedom Party’s leadership candidate, Udo Landbauer, in elections in the province of Lower Austria. Landbauer suspended his membership of a student fraternity he helped lead when it emerged the group had distributed song books with Nazi content.

The Freedom Party (FPO), junior coalition partner to Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservatives, was founded by former Nazis in the 1950s and has repeatedly kicked out members for neo-Nazi or anti-Semitic sentiments.

The FPO says it has left its Nazi past behind.

Austria’s main Jewish community body (IKG) said earlier on Thursday that it would boycott a parliamentary Holocaust commemoration event because of the FPO’s presence in government.

On Friday, thousands of people were expected to stage a protest against a far right ball hosted by the FPO in Vienna’s imperial-era Hofburg Palace.

The coalition deal handed control of much of Austria’s security apparatus to the FPO, which came third in October’s parliamentary election with 26 percent of the vote.

Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; editing by Mark Heinrich

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