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Russian influence: Police raid EU offices and home of Dutch MEP aide

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The Belgian prosecutor says the employee played a ‘significant role’ in a suspected Russian propaganda operation which infiltrated the European Parliament.

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Brussels and French police carried out a series of simultaneous raids at European Parliament offices in Brussels and Strasbourg as well as at the home of a parliamentary staffer in the Belgian neighbourhood of Schaerbeek on Wednesday morning.

Dutch EU lawmaker Marcel de Graaff confirmed on social media platform X that the staffer in question was his parliamentary assistant, Guillaume Pradoura, but distanced himself from the accusations.

“I have no involvement whatsoever in any so-called Russian disinformation operation. I have my own political beliefs and I proclaim them. That is my job as a MEP,” de Graaff claimed.

Graaff was elected to the European Parliament in 2014 for the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) – now set to enter government in the Netherlands – but defected to join Forum for Democracy (FV) in 2022. He was forced out of his European political family Identity and Democracy (ID) in October 2022 over pro-Russian statements in relation to the invasion of Ukraine.

His aide Pradoura was expelled from Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National in 2019 over an anti-Semitic picture, and previously worked as an aide to embattled German MEP Maximilian Krah, who is also embroiled in an investigation into Chinese espionage.

The searches are part of a sprawling probe into a Russian influence operation suspected to have paid sitting Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to spread pro-Kremlin propaganda from the heart of EU institutions in Brussels.

The Belgian Prosecutor, which ordered Wednesday’s searches, said there were “indications” that the parliament staffer in question played a “significant role” in the Russian propaganda operation, confirming that the raid is linked to a case involving “interference, passive corruption and membership of a criminal organisation.”

Asked for an official statement by Euronews, the European Parliament’s press services said: “We can’t comment on ongoing investigations.”

“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 this context that access to an office was provided,” the statement adds.

The search is the latest development in an ongoing investigation into Dutch-listed news company Voice of Europe, sanctioned by the European Union earlier this month for peddling the Kremlin’s propaganda.

The news company claimed to provide “uncensored news from Europe and the world” and as recently as this March held one-on-one interviews and debates with sitting MEPs broadcasted from the European Parliament in Brussels and in Strasbourg.

In late March, Czech authorities announced it had busted a Russian influence operation conducted through Voice of Europe, alleging financial transactions had been made to elected officials in the European Parliament and in national parliaments.

According to Czech media citing officials from intelligence services, the allegations involve politicians from Germany, France, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Hungary.

One of the MEPs interviewed by the so-called media was Anders Vistisen, who’s been representing the European Parliament’s far-right faction – Identity and Democracy (ID) – in debates ahead of June’s European elections.

Asked by Euronews earlier this month if he had been paid for that interview, Vistisen firmly denied: “No, of course not. That interview was set up at the same premise as this interview. I was asked to give an interview and I obliged. That’s my job as a politician.”

The staffer’s previous boss, MEP Maximilian Krah – whose Alternative for Germany (AfD) party was recently expelled from its European family after making damning Nazi comments to an Italian newspaper – has also brushed off his links with Voice of Europe, asserting that despite giving interviews to the company, he had not benefitted financially.

“There is no specific allegation that I was paid for any of these,” Krah said on X. “This shows what to think of the current campaign: Nothing!”

Krah’s assistant has since been arrested on suspicion of spying for China.

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The latest development in the investigation comes just days before some 370 million EU voters head to the polls to elect new members of the European Parliament, in a vote much feared to be the target of the Kremlin’s interference.

Responding to the raids, the European Greens’ lead candidate Terry Reintke claimed “right-wing forces are playing Russian roulette with European democracy.”

“We cannot allow these puppets of Putin to come anywhere close to power. Voters deserve clarity – especially with the EU elections next week,” Reintke added.

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