Belgium investigating Russian influence network suspected of paying EU lawmakers

Belgian prime minister Alexander de Croo
Belgian prime minister Alexander de Croo Copyright Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Mared Gwyn Jones
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The Belgian federal prosecutor has opened an investigation into EU lawmakers accused of receiving payments for spreading pro-Russian propaganda.


Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told reporters on Friday that Belgium's intelligence services had confirmed the "existence of a pro-Russian interference network with activities in several European countries" which is "subject to prosecution" in the country.

A recent investigation led by Czech authorities revealed lawmakers sitting in the European Parliament in Brussels had received cash from a Moscow-backed influence operation to "promote" its propaganda in the bloc.

"The cash payments did not take place in Belgium, but the interference does," De Croo said.

"As Belgium is the seat of the EU institutions, we have a responsibility to uphold every citizen's right to a free and safe vote," he added.

It comes just over two months before EU voters head to the polls to elect 720 members to the European Parliament, and amid mounting fears Kremlin proxies could be using information manipulation to skew the democratic vote.

Three of the major factions of the European Parliament - the centre-left Socialists and Democrats, the centrist Renew Europe and the Greens - have called for a swift investigation, and the parliament's press services have confirmed to Euronews they are "looking into" the allegations.

While De Croo was unable to specify how many EU lawmakers could face prosecution, Czech media citing intelligence officials have said the allegations involve politicians from Germany, France, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Hungary.

The Czech investigation resulted in the sanctioning of two individuals and news company Voice of Europe, through which investigators say the Russian operation had been channelled.

MEP Maximilian Krah of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), has spoken out after being associated 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!"

Belgium calls on EU to step up

De Croo said he had discussed the probe with European Parliament President Roberta Metsola as well as Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and had asked Eurojust, the bloc's agency for cooperation on criminal justice, to "convene and discuss this matter urgently."

De Croo also wants to examine whether the mandates of both the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) can allow for a "prosecution" in the case.

"If that is not the case, we should broaden these mandates," he added.

Belgian authorities are also currently investigating a sprawling corruption scandal involving MEPs and other parliament officials, accused of receiving cash in exchange for wielding their political influence in favour of officials from Qatar, Morocco and Mauritania.

But the probe has faced turmoil and put the Belgian judicial services to the test, with the previous prosecutor forced to step down following allegations he was not impartial.

The numerous debacles in the Belgian investigation have led many to brand the case as 'Belgium-gate'.

De Croo said his authorities remained "dedicated" to their role as "consensus builders" and would  continue to work "not just in the interest of Belgium, but for the entire EU."

He supported the Czech Republic's proposal to look at slapping EU-wide sanctions on individuals connected to the propaganda network, but said that the people who "receive" bribes also need to be scrutinised as part of the Belgian investigation.

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