HHundreds of thousands of euros are said to have flowed from a Russian propaganda network to European politicians – including at least one German, Petr Bystron from the AfD. The member of the Bundestag is running for the European elections on June 9th in second place on the AfD list, just behind Maximilian Krah. Both Krah and the party leadership initially seemed to distance themselves from Bystron.

On Wednesday, when the allegations became public in the Czech newspaper “Deník N”, co-chairs Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla also publicly requested a written statement from Bystron by 2 p.m. on Thursday. Krah was quoted in several media outlets as recommending to his party colleagues that they should not make any election campaign appearances for the time being. It was said that he no longer wanted to perform with him. However, this was meant more as friendly advice, as a spokesman for Krah clarified to the FAZ.

Bystron, of whose innocence Krah is convinced until proven otherwise, should rather concentrate on fending off this “attack”. The demand for Bystron's declaration should also be viewed in this light: they want to have a document that could also be used in court. In addition, they want to force the Czech newspaper to “show its colors” and reveal what specific accusations and evidence there are.

Bystron denies having received money from Voice of Europe

In his statement, which is available to the FAZ, the AfD MP himself denies having received payments from the Internet platform “Voice of Europe”. “At no time did I receive any monetary payments or cryptocurrencies from any employee of VoE (or any Russian),” writes Bystron. It is not clear from the letter whether there were other payments.

In principle, members of the Bundestag are allowed to earn and accept money in addition to their mandate. However, this permissibility has limits, in particular “the acceptance of money or donations of value that are only granted because the representation and enforcement of the interests of the person providing the service in the Bundestag is expected,” as it says in the law on members of parliament.

The “Rules of Conduct for Members of the German Bundestag” also stipulate that donations from abroad of more than 1,000 euros may not be accepted. The same applies to donations that are clearly given in anticipation of or in return for a specific economic or political advantage. Donations to individuals are also extremely unusual: Since these cannot be deducted from taxes, it is common practice to instead make party donations with a specific earmark for the respective MP who is to be supported; these are then passed on.

Czech secret service does not want to publish recordings for the time being

However, Bystron is accused of accepting money from the network operating in the Czech Republic, which is said to have spread Russian misinformation and propaganda. At the end of March, “Voice of Europe” was exposed by several secret services. On March 27, the Czech government placed the portal's operators on the sanctions list because they questioned the “territorial integrity, sovereignty and freedom of Ukraine.” In the course of this, Bystron's name was also mentioned, as “Deník N” reported.

“Voice of Europe” published interviews with Krah and Bystron, among others. Interviews were often associated with payments – in Prague, for example, cash was handed over or there were transfers in the form of cryptocurrency. According to research, the government in Prague has audio recordings that suggest Bystron was financed by the pro-Russian network. Several members of the government have confirmed this.

However, the Czech domestic secret service BIS said it does not plan to release any audio recordings to the public for the time being. A spokesman for the BIS in Prague said that their German colleagues had received “comparatively extensive information” about the case. “It is then up to you or the state organs how you appear to the public,” it said.

Baerbock sees a connection with Putin's hybrid warfare

Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock placed the case in the context of Russian President Vladimir Putin's hybrid warfare. The approach is aimed at hollowing out and undermining democracies in Europe from within, said the Green politician on Thursday on the sidelines of a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels. The focus is on the division of societies, disinformation and fake news.

In his statement, Bystron writes of a “defamation campaign” against him. With a view to the European elections, attempts are being made to prevent a strong performance by right-wing populist parties in Europe and the formation of a strong group in the European Parliament. “Anyone who advocates for peace and against the continuation of the war in Ukraine should be defamed as a Russian agent.” He is not surprised that this “campaign” comes from the Czech head of government. Its government is one of the strongest supporters of continuing the war in Ukraine.

He wants to defend himself against this and against the reporting: “I have already contacted lawyers in both Germany and the Czech Republic to take action against this defamation.” Whether this explanation is enough for the AfD's federal executive board will become clear in the coming days. A spokesman for the party said on Thursday that the federal executive board and the parliamentary group executive committee would discuss this. A telephone call is planned for Monday.

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