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ELECTION

German prosecutors seek to lift AfD MP Alice Weidel’s immunity over suspicious donations probe

German prosecutors on Wednesday asked parliament to lift the immunity of a prominent far-right MP, Alice Weidel, as they step up enquiries into suspicious campaign donations made to the AfD party co-leader ahead of the last general election.

German prosecutors seek to lift AfD MP Alice Weidel's immunity over suspicious donations probe
Alice Weidel. Photo: DPA

The prosecutor's office of Lake Constance said it had made the request in a letter to Bundestag president Wolfgang Schäuble.

The move is necessary to allow prosecutors to open an official probe into the dubious payments, they said in a statement.

Weidel heads the Alternative for Germany's (AfD's) parliamentary group and has long been seen as a rising star in the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam party.

But she has come under increasing pressure since German media revealed last weekend that the AfD's Lake Constance branch received 18 donations from a Swiss pharmaceutical firm, PWS, between July and September 2017, totalling
some 150,000 Swiss francs (€130,000 euros).

Under German law, campaign donations from non-EU countries are illegal. Switzerland, though linked to the EU through numerous treaties, is not a member of the bloc.

The payments reportedly came with the message “campaign donation Alice Weidel”.

Lake Constance is the southern district where Weidel, who divides her time between Germany and Switzerland, where her partner and children live, ran for office in 2017 elections in which the AfD made huge gains.

She has insisted she has no information about the campaign donor and stressed that the money was later repaid.

Questions have also been raised over a sum of money received from Belgium in February this year. Weidel's district association's account had received €150,000 from the sender “Stichting Identiteit Europa” (European Identity Foundation).

The payment was examined by the party. “However, the AfD district association Bodenseekreis was unable to establish either the donor identity or the donor motivation, which is why it ultimately decided not to accept the money from 'Stichting Identiteit Europa',” the party explained in a press release.

For this reason the group did not report it to the Bundestag, the party said.  “On 9th May 2018 the full amount was remitted to the sender,” they added.

Party donations from EU countries, like Belgium, are not illegal in principle, but donations of more than €50,000 must be reported to the Bundestag administration.

SEE ALSO: German prosecutors probing 'illegal' donations to AfD

Condemnation

Politicians from other parties have strongly condemned her handling of the affair.

Lawmaker Britta Hasselmann from the opposition Greens has accused Weidel of “playing the public for fools” by claiming she was unaware that foreign donations were illegal.

MP Johannes Kars of the Social Democrats, Chancellor Angela Merkel's junior coalition partner, has said that if the money is confirmed to have violated spending laws then Weidel “should resign”.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine daily on Wednesday reported that Weidel spent some of the Swiss money on social media advertising and on a media lawyer tasked with launching proceedings against journalists.

The German journalists' federation DJV responded by calling on Weidel to step down.

“In the fight against critical journalists the AfD parliamentary leader will use any means, even apparently illegal party donations,” DJV head Frank Überall told the Handelsblatt newspaper.

The Swiss company behind the donations told German media it was acting on behalf of “a business friend” but declined to identify the person.

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POLITICS

‘Russia must not win this war,’ says Germany’s Scholz

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged once again to stand with Ukraine against Russia - but said Ukraine's bid to join the EU cannot be sped up.

'Russia must not win this war,' says Germany's Scholz

Scholz said the war in Ukraine was the greatest crisis facing the EU in its history, but that solidarity was strong. 

“We are all united by one goal: Russia must not win this war, Ukraine must prevail,” Scholz said in the speech to the Bundestag on Thursday.

Putin thinks he can use bombs to dictate the terms for peace, the SPD politician said. 

“He’s wrong. He was wrong in judging the unity of Ukrainians, and the determination of our alliances. Russia will not dictate peace because the Ukrainians won’t accept it and we won’t accept it.”

Scholz said it was only when Putin understands that he cannot break Ukraine’s defence capability that he would “be prepared to seriously negotiate peace”.

For this, he said, it is important to strengthen Ukraine’s defences. 

Scholz also pledged to help cut Europe free from its reliance on Russian energy. 

The Chancellor welcomed the accession of Finland and Sweden to Nato. “With you at our side, Nato, Europe will become stronger and safer,” he said.

However, Scholz dampened expectations for Ukraine’s quick accession to the EU.

“There are no shortcuts on the way to the EU,” Scholz said, adding that an exception for Ukraine would be unfair to the Western Balkan countries also seeking membership.

“The accession process is not a matter of a few months or years,” he said.

Scholz had in April called for Western Balkan countries’ efforts to join the EU to be accelerated amid a “new era” in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Last October, EU leaders at a summit in Slovenia only reiterated their “commitment to the enlargement process” in a statement that disappointed the six candidates for EU membership — Albania, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo – who had hoped for a concrete timetable.

“For years, they have been undertaking intensive reforms and preparing for accession,” Scholz said on Thursday.

“It is not only a question of our credibility that we keep our promises to them. Today more than ever, their integration is also in our strategic interest,” he said.

The Chancellor said he would be attending the EU summit at the end of May “with the clear message that the Western Balkans belong in the European Union”.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has also said it will take “decades” for a candidate like Ukraine to join the EU, and suggested building a broader political club beyond the bloc that could also include Britain.

Financial boost for Ukraine

Meanwhile, Germany said it would contribute one billion euros to shore up the Ukrainian government’s finances, as G7 ministers met to discuss further support for Kyiv in the face of the Russian invasion.

The G7 were coordinating “commitments to finance the government functions of the Ukraine”, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner said at a press conference following the first day of the meeting in Germany.

Germany “will make one billion euros available to the Ukrainians in grants,” Lindner said, in addition to a $7.5-billion pledge from the United
States in the process of being approved by legislators.

Lindner said he expected “further steps forward” to be made before the end of the meeting on Friday.

The war has blown a hole in Ukraine’s finances, with tax revenue having fallen sharply.

Kyiv needed a “double-digit billion euro” figure to keep essential services going, Lindner said earlier in the day ahead of the meeting in Königswinter, near Bonn.

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