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German prosecutors probe far-right leader over election donations

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German prosecutors probe far-right leader over election donations
Alice Weidel of Alternative for Germany (AfD) speaks during a session at the lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch   -   Copyright  FABRIZIO BENSCH(Reuters)
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BERLIN (Reuters) – German prosecutors have opened an investigation into the co-leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) on suspicion of violating party donation rules, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office in the city of Constance.

Alice Weidel’s local party in the southern city on the shores of a lake of the same name is suspected of receiving a total 145,000 Swiss francs (113,782 pounds) between July and September last year from a company based across the border in Switzerland.

German law prohibits parties from receiving donations from outside the European Union, of which Switzerland is not a member state. The donations were made shortly before Germany’s national election last September, the spokesman said in a statement.

The development is a fresh setback for the anti-immigration AfD, which became Germany’s largest opposition party after last September’s national election but suffered lacklustre results in two regional votes last month.

Given that Weidel is a lawmaker with impunity, prosecutors had to first notify her and the president of the Bundestag lower house before launching the investigation.

“The prosecutor’s office in Constance has extended the investigation based on the initial suspicion of the violation of party law to include Alice Weidel,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

Weidel acknowledged in a speech in parliament on Wednesday that her party had “made mistakes in dealing with electioneering donations” and said that all the funds had been returned to the Swiss firm.

A few other AfD members in Constance are also under investigation in the case.

Prosecutors started looking into the party’s election financing after a media consortium alleged that Weidel had received donations from a Swiss firm last year.

(Reporting by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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