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Austrian Far-Right Ministers Leave Government Amid 'Russian Video' Scandal

Heinz-Christian Strache addresses the media in Vienna on May 18.

Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPO) says that all its ministers will step down from the coalition government amid a corruption scandal.

The political crisis was triggered last week by a 2017 video purportedly showing FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache offering contracts to a potential Russian benefactor in exchange for political donations.

Strache stepped down as vice chancellor on May 18, and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on May 20 called on the president to dismiss Interior Minister Herbert Kickl, saying that the FPO minister stood in the way of a transparent investigation into the scandal.

The FPO retaliated by withdrawing the rest of its ministers from the government, leaving Kurz without ministers for foreign affairs, defense, labor, and infrastructure.

President Alexander van der Bellen called for early elections to be held in September.

In the video published by German media on May 17, the woman speaks Russian and identifies herself as the niece of a wealthy Russian businessman.

Another FPO official is shown translating from German into Russian.

The encounter allegedly took place on the Spanish island of Ibiza in July 2017, three months before the elections that brought the FPO into the coalition government and made Strache vice chancellor.

The Kremlin shrugged off suspicions of involvement in the scandal.

"It does not concern the Russian Federation, nor its president, nor its government," Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. "We do not know who this woman is, whether she is Russian or not."

In 2016, the FPO signed a cooperation agreement with Putin's United Russia party.

Based on reporting by dpa, the BBC, and TASS