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Police search the European Parliament over suspected Russian interference, prosecutors say

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BRUSSELS (AP) — Police searched the offices and residence of an employee of the European Parliament on Wednesday as part of an investigation into whether EU lawmakers were bribed to promote Russian propaganda to undermine support for Ukraine, prosecutors said.

Just days before European elections, the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office said searches took place at the employee’s apartment in Brussels. His parliamentary offices in the EU capital city and in 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 cooperation agency Eurojust, carried out the operation.

Europe-wide elections to choose 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 organization 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 staffer for EU lawmaker 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. The official was not allowed to speak publicly because the probe is ongoing.

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

“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.”

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.

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.

Krah 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,” he said.

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

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,” he added.

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

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