Belgium raids EU lawmaker aide's home, offices on Russia propaganda suspicions

(Restores dropped word "in" in)

By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -Belgian investigators searched the home and offices of an assistant at the European Parliament on Wednesday, who prosecutors say may have played a role in spreading Russian propaganda ahead of an election for the EU assembly.

Investigators searched the assistant's residence in Brussels, as well as his office at the European Parliament there, federal prosecutors said, while French judicial authorities searched his office at the European Union's assembly in Strasbourg.

Prosecutors said the searches were part of an investigation into possible Russian interference whereby members of the European Parliament were approached and paid to promote Russian propaganda via the Voice of Europe news website.

"There are indications that the European Parliament employee concerned played a significant role in this," prosecutors said in a statement.

The prosecutors did not name the employee, or the lawmaker for whom the person worked.

Dutch news agency ANP said the employee was an assistant of Dutch lawmaker Marcel De Graaff of the right-wing nationalist and anti-immigrant party Forum voor Democratie.

De Graaff said on social media platform X that he had learned from the media that the home and office of an assistant had been searched and that neither he nor the assistant had been contacted by the authorities.

"For me this all comes as a total surprise," he wrote.

He added that he had not been involved in any Russian disinformation campaign and held his own political beliefs.

De Graaff said the searches seem to have been carried out to target the far-right Alternative for Germany over concerns it will do well in the EU election. The employee was previously an assistant for AfD's lead candidate Maximilian Krah.

De Graaff's party did not reply to a request for comment.

The European Parliament said it could not comment on an ongoing investigation.

"When and if requested to, the European Parliament fully cooperates with law enforcement and judicial authorities to assist the course of justice and will continue to do so. It is in this context that access to an office was provided," a parliamentary spokesperson said.

Voters in the 27 countries of the EU will go to the polls to elect 720 lawmakers to the European Parliament on June 6-9. Mainstream groups say voters are likely to be bombarded with lies and disinformation.

The EU has imposed sanctions on Czech-registered Voice of Europe and two businessmen connected to it. The Council of the EU said the Voice of Europe and its social media accounts actively spread disinformation on Ukraine and promoted "pro-Kremlin false narratives".

Voice of Europe has said in an unsigned article on its website that it "categorically rejected" the EU action.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, additional reporting by Bart Meijer in Amsterdam; Editing by Sharon Singleton and Jonathan Oatis)