AP NEWS

Russia puppet rumors, dubious donors plague German far right

April 7, 2019
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AfD top candidate for the European Parliament Joerg Meuthen holds a speech during the start of the election campaign in Offenburg, Germany, Saturday, April 6, 2019. A series of potential scandals is plaguing the far-right Alternative for Germany party ahead of next month's European Parliament elections. (Fabian Sommer/dpa via AP)

BERLIN (AP) — A series of potential scandals is plaguing the far-right Alternative for Germany party, overshadowing the launch of its campaign for next month’s elections for the European Union’s legislature.

Germany’s biggest opposition party, which swept into the national parliament two years ago after focusing its campaign on curbing migration, is struggling to explain a number of murky donations prominent party members received in recent months, some of them from abroad.

In addition, Germany’s public broadcaster ZDF on Friday quoted emails between Russian officials appearing to predict the 2017 election of one of the party’s lawmakers, Markus Frohnmaier, to the German parliament and suggesting he would act as a puppet for Moscow. Frohnmaier, who has publicly supported Russia’s annexation of Crimea, denies the claim.

A poll published Sunday by the German weekly Bild am Sonntag found the party’s support has fallen to 12% — its lowest value in years. The survey of 2,355 respondents between March 28 and April 3 asked about national elections, but recent polls for the May 23-26 European vote have reflected similar or lower support.

Over the weekend, Alternative for Germany’s lead candidate for the May 26 vote dismissed allegations against his party as conspiracy theories and insisted it has “many good allies” in other European countries.

Speaking Saturday at an EU election rally in Offenburg, Joerg Meuthen said AfD would work with the Austrian Freedom Party, Italy’s anti-migrant League party and the Fidesz party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to create “a new alliance of conservative, freedom-minded and patriotic forces of reason” at the European level.

Meuthen himself has come under scrutiny over free election ads he and others in the party received from a Swiss-based PR agency. AfD’s co-leader Alice Weidel received more than 130,000 euros ($146,500) from Switzerland ahead of the 2017 national election — a possible breach of German electoral law.

German news agency dpa also quoted Meuthen calling the claims about Frohnmaier’s ties to Moscow “total nonsense” Saturday.

Public broadcaster ZDF and weekly Der Spiegel on Friday cited a strategy paper supposedly written by Russian government officials to bolster Russia’s interests abroad. The 2017 paper describes Frohnmaier, 28, as an asset for Russia who “will be absolutely under our control,” according to the reports.

ZDF and Der Spiegel said the document was provided to them by an organization close to exiled billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a fierce critic of the Kremlin. Its veracity couldn’t be independently verified.

Frohnmaier told ZDF that he couldn’t imagine who might have written about him in that way. “I ran to represent German interests. And that’s what I’m doing,” he told the broadcaster.

Since his election, Frohnmaier has vocally supported Moscow’s position on Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014 in a move that Ukraine and most of the world views as illegal. In an interview with Kremlin-funded broadcaster RT, Frohnmaier said that Crimea “is now Russian Crimea.”

AfD has been wracked by scandals and infighting since its founding in 2013. Several senior figures have left the party, including two of its former leaders.

On Friday, AfD’s parliamentary co-leader in the state legislature of Bavaria announced he was quitting, too. In a statement, Markus Plenk, cited the party’s drift to the right as a reason for his departure.