Police search offices and residence of employee of European Parliament

29 May 2024, 13:34

EU flags
Brexit. Picture: PA

The raids took place less than two weeks before Europe-wide polls on June 6-9 to elect a new EU parliament.

Police have searched the offices and residence of an employee of the European Parliament as part of an investigation into whether EU legislators were bribed to promote Russian propaganda to undermine support for Ukraine, prosecutors said.

Just days before European elections, Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office said searches took place at the employee’s apartment in Brussels.

His parliamentary offices in the EU capital city and Strasbourg, where the EU Parliament’s headquarters are located in France, were also checked.

Belgian and French authorities, in partnership with the EU’s judicial co-operation agency Eurojust, carried out the operation.

Europe-wide polls to elect a new EU parliament are set for June 6-9.

An investigation was announced last month by Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, who said his country’s intelligence service has confirmed the existence of a network trying to undermine support for Ukraine.

“The searches are part of a case of interference, passive corruption and membership of a criminal organisation and relates to indications of Russian interference, whereby Members of the European Parliament were approached and paid to promote Russian propaganda via the Voice of Europe news website,” prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said they believe the employee played “a significant role in this”.

Several news outlets identified the suspect as Guillaume Pradoura, a staff member for EU legislator Marcel de Graaff of the far-right Dutch party Forum for Democracy.

A person with knowledge of the investigation confirmed that the reports were accurate.

Mr De Graaff said on the social media platform X that he and Mr Pradoura were not contacted by authorities.

European flags fly outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France
European flags fly outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)

“For me, all this comes as a complete surprise,” he said.

“By the way, I have no involvement in any so-called Russian disinformation operation whatsoever. I have my own political beliefs and I proclaim them. That is my job as an MEP.”

Mr Pradoura previously worked for Maximilian Krah, the top candidate of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany in next month’s European election, who was recently banned from campaigning by his party.

Mr Krah had already been under scrutiny after authorities in Brussels searched his offices at the European Parliament in connection with one of his assistants who was arrested last month on suspicion of spying for China.

He said in a message posted on X that none of his offices had been searched on Wednesday.

“The ex-employee in question has long been working for another MP,” Mr Krah said.

The EU this month banned Voice of Europe and three other Russian media from broadcasting in the 27-nation bloc.

It said they were all under control of the Kremlin and were targeting “European political parties, especially during election periods”.

Since the war started in February 2022, the EU had already suspended Russia Today and Sputnik, among several other outlets.

Mr De Croo said last month that the probe showed that members of the European Parliament were approached and offered money to promote Russian propaganda.

“According to our intelligence service, the objectives of Moscow are very clear. The objective is to help elect more pro-Russian candidates to the European Parliament and to reinforce a certain pro-Russian narrative in that institution,” he said.

“The goal is very clear: A weakened European support for Ukraine serves Russia on the battlefield and that is the real aim of what has been uncovered in the last weeks,” Mr De Croo added.

EU nations have poured billions of euros into Ukraine, along with significant amounts of weaponry and ammunition.

They have also slapped sanctions on top Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, banks, companies and the energy sector since Moscow’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

By Press Association

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