DThe Belgian federal prosecutor's office is investigating MEPs on suspicion that they were paid by Russia. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced this on Friday. “The cash payments did not take place in Belgium, but the influence did,” he said. As the seat of the EU institutions, his country sees it as its duty to guarantee the right of every citizen to a free and safe election. De Croo did not name any suspects, but confirmed that “Belgian intelligence services have confirmed the existence of a pro-Russian influence network in several European countries and in Belgium” and that MEPs had also been approached.

Thomas Gutschker

Political correspondent for the European Union, NATO and the Benelux countries based in Brussels.

He was referring to investigations by Czech authorities, the focus of which is the Internet portal Voice of Europe. According to Prime Minister Petr Fiala, this is a “pro-Russian network that has tried to develop influence on our territory that would have serious consequences for the security of the Czech Republic and the European Union.” The portal, which is now no longer accessible, had published interviews with right-wing politicians from Europe, including on YouTube, in which they reproduced Russian narratives.

According to media reports, politicians from Germany, France, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Hungary are said to have received money from Russia through personal cash handovers in Prague and transfers in cryptocurrencies. In total, several hundred thousand euros are said to have flowed. So far, specific allegations have only been made against AfD member of the Bundestag Peter Bystron, who denied them.

Also giving interviews were the German AfD MEP Maximilian Krah, the Flemish right-wing extremists Filip Dewinter and Filip Brusselmans, who sit in the regional parliament, the Dutch right-wing populist Thierry Baudet, chairman of the Forum for Democracy and a member of the national parliament, and the party's MEP Marcel de Graaff .

De Croo also said that the Belgian government had asked the EU judicial authority Eurojust to take up this case immediately. It is also necessary to check whether the mandate of the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) and the Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) allows them to investigate themselves. “If that is not possible, we should expand these mandates,” he demanded.