Sebastian Kurz has pivoted from politics to tech by taking up a position at Peter Thiel’s California-based investment company after the former Austrian leader quit in October following allegations of corruption at the heart of his government.
The 35-year-old former chancellor will become a “global strategist” for the rightwing billionaire’s business, Thiel Capital, said one person familiar with the matter.
The investment vehicle has backed a number of diverse start-ups, including psychedelics developer Atai.
Kurz, who was once the EU’s youngest elected leader, closed the door on a previously glittering political career this month by quitting as head of the centre-right Austrian People’s party, and maintaining he had become the victim of a “witch hunt”.
Although no formal charges have been brought, police had raided ministries across Vienna as part of probes into whether Kurz and his allies had used state funds and made fake invoices to buy favourable media coverage while he was foreign minister between 2013 and 2017.
Kurz, the former torchbearer of Europe’s centre-right, denies all wrongdoing.
Thiel, who is of German origin, is a big donor to US Republican candidates’ campaigns. He first rose to prominence as chief of the payments platform PayPal, and went on to invest in Facebook, but moved to the wilder fringes of the tech world by his interest in radical ideas such as creating sovereign territory on the high seas.
In 2016, when Thiel came out publicly in support of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, distrust from the left-leaning tech establishment turned to hostility, hastening his departure from Silicon Valley. He has since moved his base of operations to Los Angeles and Washington, while Palantir, the big data and artificial intelligence company he founded, has moved to Colorado.
Palantir’s work in helping governments analyse large amounts of data, for example to identify potential terrorists and track immigrants, has long made it a target of civil liberties activists.
But that has not prevented its influence from spreading internationally in recent years, including in Europe. The pandemic accelerated its reach, with health agencies adopting its tools to help track the spread of Covid-19 infections and identify dwindling resources such as available hospital beds.
Thiel and Kurz appear to have known each other for years. The two were pictured together in a photo posted on Kurz’s Twitter account during the Munich Security Conference in 2017. The former chancellor said the pair had discussed “how #digitalization changes our world”.
Additional reporting by Sam Jones and Richard Waters