German far-right politician denies taking Russian money

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A leading German far-right politician has denied allegations that he was paid by a pro-Kremlin oligarch to spread Russian propaganda, amid growing concern over Moscow’s efforts to disrupt upcoming European elections.

Calls mounted on Thursday for Petr Bystron to withdraw from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) candidates list for the June elections to the European parliament, as fresh allegations surfaced over his links to Russia.

Bystron said the claims against him were a “defamation campaign” and that he never received any money or cryptocurrency payments from Voice of Europe, a media outlet hit with sanctions last week by Czech authorities for allegedly paying European politicians to spread Russian propaganda.

If he stays as number 2 on the AfD list, the German politician with Czech origins is almost guaranteed to become an EU lawmaker, as polling analysis indicates the party would more than double its number of seats on June 9.

Members of the European parliament called on Thursday for an urgent inquiry into the scandal, in which candidates from six political parties in different countries have been implicated in a potential Russian covert influence campaign.

Bystron, a German MP, also has a seat on the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

The committee’s chair, Michael Roth, a social democrat, said the allegations against Bystron had to be urgently clarified.

“As a member of the foreign affairs committee, Bystron had access to secret information. If the serious allegations made against him are true, [he] would be a massive risk to the security of our country,” Roth told Die Zeit newspaper. “A deputy at [Vladimir] Putin’s mercy [would be] a disgrace.”

Prague-based media outlet Deník N was the first to name Bystron over the weekend as one of the politicians Voice of Europe had allegedly paid. The outlet quoted unnamed Czech ministers who claimed Bystron had been flagged in a Czech intelligence report.

The Czech government took down the website and imposed a travel ban and an assets freeze on its owner, Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, who is godfather to one of Putin’s daughters. Medvedchuk is accused of running the influence scheme through Voice of Europe and using the company to pay European politicians to peddle Kremlin propaganda.

Medvedchuk did not respond to requests for comment.

Voice of Europe has labelled the Czech action as “globalist thuggery” and a “witch-hunt that is reminiscent of the darkest days of McCarthyism”. It denied having done anything illegal and said there was no “concrete evidence” to support the allegations.

German government officials confirmed that a pan-European Russian influence operation had been uncovered in recent days thanks to shared intelligence but declined to comment further on allegations against any particular individuals.

Bystron is due to meet the AfD’s leaders, Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla, to discuss the matter in person on Monday.

The AfD’s number one candidate for the European parliament, Maximilian Krah, has distanced himself from his colleague. In an interview with Die Welt he said Bystron should suspend his campaign until the allegations against him have been addressed.

The AfD is under mounting pressure over its links to Russia and the hardline views of some of its members. Krah himself has given two interviews to Voice of Europe, and has repeatedly opposed aid to Ukraine, and the country’s membership of the EU or Nato.

Although it has dipped in popularity in recent weeks, the AfD is still the party of choice for nearly one in five Germans, and polls in second place behind the mainstream conservative Christian Democrats.

In January its ascendancy was checked when a major scandal erupted over a meeting between AfD politicians and the Austrian ethno-nationalist Martin Sellner, at which the forced deportation of German passport holders from immigrant backgrounds was discussed.

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