Austrian party head quits over sex harassment claims

Former member of the Austrian Green Party and head of the list Pilz, Peter Pilz leaves a press conference in Vienna, Austria, 4 November 2017. Pilz announced his resignation of the list Pilz and his seat in the Austrian parliament, after he has been accused of sexual harassment by a former colleague. [Christian Bruna/EPA/EFE]

Prominent Austrian politician Peter Pilz on Saturday (4 November) quit parliament and stepped down as head of his newly formed anti-establishment party over sexual harassment allegations.

“I’ve always fought for strict standards and these standards also apply to me,” the veteran leftwing MP, 63, said in a statement.

The announcement came after weekly newspaper Falter confronted him early Saturday with allegations of sexual misconduct.

A woman told the paper that an inebriated Pilz had groped her in 2013 at a major annual discussion forum in the western town of Alpbach.

“His hands were everywhere,” she was quoted as saying by Falter.

The woman said two other forum participants eventually dragged the politician away.

Pilz said he could not remember the incident, but took the allegations “extremely serious”.

However, Pilz rejected claims made last week by a female Greens member who also accused him of fondling her on dozens of occasions when he was still with the party.

He said he would fight the allegations in court.

Pilz is an old hand in Austrian politics, having co-founded the Greens party in 1986.

The feisty lawmaker is renowned for his sharp tongue and tough anti-corruption investigations.

He split from the Greens in July over internal rifts and formed an anti-establishment party dubbed the “Pilz List”, which won four seats in last month’s snap election.

The move dealt a death knell to the Greens who failed to make it into parliament.

While the Pilz List has yet to nominate a new leader Styrian MP Martha Bissmann will fill the vacant parliamentary seat.

“We will take on our mandate with full dedication in the spirit of our electoral promises,” the party — made up of artists, academics and entrepreneurs — said in a statement on Saturday afternoon.

Pilz meanwhile vowed to continue to work as their advisor.

The Austrian joins a growing queue of notable men from Hollywood to Brussels and London who face allegations of sexual harassment or worse.

The first major headline on the issue was in October with disgraced US film producer Harvey Weinstein, but has since ensnared movie stars Kevin Spacey and Dustin Hoffman, Britain’s former defence minister Michael Fallon and senior European Parliament staff.