If you’re not familiar with the Austrian political scandal involving an alleged Russian oligarch’s niece at an Ibiza hotel, don’t worry. Major English-language media outlets largely overlooked this scandal due to the overwhelming coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic and President Donald Trump’s presidency.
The Ibiza Scandal was a political controversy in Austria that implicated Heinz-Christian Strache, the former vice chancellor and leader of the Freedom Party, and Johann Gudenus, a former deputy leader within the party.
The scandal erupted in May 2019 with the release of a secretly recorded video from a meeting that took place in Ibiza, Spain, in July 2017. In the footage, Strache and Gudenus were seen discussing illegal strategies and motives of their party. They appeared receptive to proposals made by a woman who claimed to be Alyona Makarova, a niece of Russian businessman Igor Makarov. She discussed the possibility of providing favorable media coverage to the Freedom Party in exchange for government contracts. Strache and Gudenus also hinted at potentially corrupt political dealings involving wealthy donors supporting their party.
The meticulously planned nature of this apparent setup and the significant investment of time and resources led Germany’s Die Welt to speculate about the orchestrator behind this operation. It was designed to produce “Kompromat,” or holding damaging information about a political opponent until the right moment to use it for maximum impact. This material had been kept hidden for two years and was released just days before the European Parliament election scheduled for May 2019.
On May 18, just one day after the video surfaced online, Strache resigned as Vice-Chancellor of Austria and Chairman of the Freedom Party. He initially characterized the video recording as an unlawful and unethical act by the media, vowing to pursue legal action against those responsible. But he later admitted his own misconduct. Gudenus also offered his resignation, expressing deep regret for his actions and the disappointment he caused.
The resignations didn’t end there. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz requested the removal of Minister of the Interior Herbert Kickl, known for his controversial stance within the Freedom Party, as he would have overseen the investigation into the Ibiza affair in his capacity as Interior Minister.
After the resignations, questions remained about who orchestrated the meeting and secret recording, as well as the true identity of Alyona Makarova. Russian businessman Igor Makarov denied any family ties with her, stating that he was the only child in his family.
The German tabloid Bild suggested that Austrian lawyer Ramin Mirfakhrai and Austrian private investigator Julian Hessenthaler may have organized the operation. Later, Ramin Mirfakhrai confirmed his involvement in commissioning the video. Hessenthaler later testified that he had recorded the video to create an impartial record in response to allegations and complaints, without attempting extortion or publicizing it.
The identity of the decoy responsible for the politicians’ resignations, Una Saukuma, a 40-year-old Latvian, has been revealed, but her connection to Hessenthaler remains unknown. Charges against Saukuma are pending, and Strache and Gudenus are considering pressing charges as well. The Vienna public prosecutor’s office has reopened the case against Saukuma, which was previously on hold, for multiple alleged offenses related to deceitful activities.
Authorities are still searching for Saukuma and aim to gather more information about Julian Hessenthaler, who is wanted for crimes such as cocaine trafficking and violating tax laws in the European Union. After six years and a series of embarrassing resignations, the Ibiza Scandal finally seems to be approaching its conclusion, with all involved parties and motives now identified.