German legislator's premises searched in bribery investigation

By Thomas Escritt

BERLIN (Reuters) - Authorities in Germany and Spain have searched premises linked to a German legislator who is suspected of receiving bribes and money laundering and was identified by German media as far-right politician Petr Bystron.

Bystron, who is running in next month's European Parliament elections, did not immediately comment on the searches. He has denied allegations widely reported by media that he was paid for giving interviews to a pro-Russian news portal.

The German prosecutors' office said in a statement that various premises had been searched as part of an investigation into a member of the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, but did not name the legislator.

German magazine Der Spiegel named Bystron as the target of the searches. The Bundestag said Bystron's immunity as a lawmaker had been lifted before the searches.

"Munich prosecutors are investigating a Bundestag member on suspicion of receiving bribes and money laundering," the prosecutors' office said. "As part of this investigation, premises in Berlin and Bavaria and on Majorca were searched and evidence was seized."

Czech-born Bystron lives in the Bavarian city of Munich.

The German prosecutor's office made no further comment.

Czech media have reported that Czech security services have a recording in which Bystron can be heard counting banknotes, and complaining that their denominations are so large that it will be tough to spend them even at a petrol station.

Bystron has said the allegations are part of an organised political campaign against him.

The allegations, widely reported in Czech and German media, were a blow to his Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which is under scrutiny over allegations that it harbours spies and agents for Russia and China. The party leadership says the allegations should be investigated as soon as possible.

"So far no proof has been presented for the allegations raised against Mr Bystron weeks ago," AfD leaders Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla said in a joint statement on Thursday.

"The AfD hopes the investigation will be concluded swiftly to avoid creating the suspicion that this is an attempt to use authorities and prosecutors to influence the European election campaign."

The AfD was vying with the opposition conservatives to top opinion polls at the start of 2024, but polls show its support has dropped since the foreign influence allegations and mass protests against the party.

Prosecutors charged an assistant to Maximilian Krah, the party's lead candidate for June's European Parliament elections, with spying for China.

(Additional reporting by Alexander Ratz, Editing by Timothy Heritage)