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German prosecutors probe far-right AfD lawmaker over bribery

dpa international

German prosecutors launched an investigation into a lawmaker of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party on suspicion of bribery and money laundering as well as searching several properties on Thursday.

Petr Bystron, the second candidate on the party’s ticket for the European elections on June 9, has had his immunity waived by Germany’s Bundestag or lower house of parliament.

Bystron described the investigation to the news website Zeit Online as politically motivated.

Far-right lawmaker sees some election consequences

“The proceedings will be dropped when the election is over,” he was quoted as saying. “It will cost us some votes in the election.”

However, he was sure other voters would stick with the AfD: “Those who know the history of our party, which has been damaged by retaliatory campaigns, will not be put off by this.”

The public prosecutor’s office in Munich said searches were taking place at Bystron’s office in Berlin, several locations in Bavaria and on the Spanish island of Mallorca.

According to prosecutors, 11 public prosecutors and around 70 officers from the Bavarian police force were deployed.

Properties of witnesses who are not accused in the proceedings were also searched, a spokesman for the prosecutors said. The main aim was to seize documents and data carriers to search them for evidence.

Bystron has been the AfD’s chairman of the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee since 2017. Since 2021, he has been his party’s foreign policy spokesman and its representative to the Council of Europe and the Inter-Parliamentary Union of global legislatures.

The Munich prosecutor pointed out that the presumption of innocence applies until a possible conviction.

Parliament strips another AfD member of Bundestag immunity

Bystron’s AfD parliamentary colleague Hannes Gnauck was also stripped of his immunity in the Bundestag on Thursday.

According to broadcaster ARD, the case centres on a disciplinary complaint from his time in the German army.

Gnauck represents the AfD on the parliamentary Defence Committee and politicians from other parties have sharply criticized his role, given suggestions that the Military Counterintelligence Service (MAD) had classified the former soldier as an “extremist.”

Bystron and another leading AfD politician, Maximilian Krah, have come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks for alleged links to pro-Russian networks. Following media reports about possible payments to both politicians, prosecutors recently examined the allegations.

Krah, a member of the European Parliament, is the AfD’s top candidate for the European election.

German actions follow Czech investigation

In March, the Czech Republic placed the pro-Russian internet platform Voice of Europe (VoE) on a national sanctions list following an investigation by the intelligence services, which also included interviews with Bystron and Krah.

The site was said to be part of a Russian influence operation aimed at calling into question the territorial integrity, sovereignty and freedom of Ukraine. A Czech newspaper had reported that Bystron may also have accepted money.

According to dpa information, the German investigations that have now been initiated relate to the allegations in connection with VoE.

State prosecutors also looking into AfD‘sKrah

Criminal prosecutors in Dresden had also opened a preliminary investigation against Krah, who is from the east German city, and another person into possible payments from China.

In addition, Krah’s former employee Jian G was arrested on suspicion of spying for China. In connection with the investigation against G, German prosecutors had Krah’s offices and those of his ex-employee in the European Parliament in Brussels searched last week.

AfD leadership continues to stand by its two candidates.

After a short break, Krah is once again making campaign appearances and in Bystron’s case, party leaders Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla stated in writing: “The waiver of immunity and the search of Petr Bystron’s office and private premises are a serious matter.”

So far, no evidence has been presented for the accusations that have been levelled against Bystron for weeks, they said.

The AfD’s parliamentary group hopes for a swift conclusion to the investigation “so that there is no suspicion that an attempt is being made to influence the European election campaign through authorities and public prosecutors bound by instructions.”

The AfD had been polling nationally at around 20%, amid dissatisfaction with Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s three-party coalition, but support has dropped to between 16% and 18% after a series of scandals – including allegations it plans to repatriate migrants.

Tino Chrupalla (C), Federal Chairman of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and leader of the AfD parliamentary group, speaks during a plenary session in the German Parliament, Bundestag. Michael Kappeler/dpa

Tino Chrupalla (C), Federal Chairman of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and leader of the AfD parliamentary group, speaks during a plenary session in the German Parliament, Bundestag. Michael Kappeler/dpa

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