Federal prosecutor opens investigation into Russian interference in European Parliament

The Belgian Federal Prosecutor's Office has opened an investigation into Russian interference in the European Parliament. Prime minister Alexander De Croo announced this on Friday during a briefing on the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Russian propaganda in Europe

At the end of March, Czech intelligence services announced they had discovered the existence of a Moscow-funded network spreading pro-Russian propaganda about Ukraine via the Voice of Europe news website. This is the same website where Filip Dewinter (Vlaams Belang) and his party colleague Filip Brusselmans gave an interview. European parliamentarians are said to have been approached and also paid to promote Russian propaganda.

Belgian intelligence services have confirmed the existence of this network with activities in several European countries, including Belgium, De Croo said on Friday. He added that Moscow's goals were clear: "To help elect more pro-Russian candidates to the European Parliament and to strengthen the pro-Russian narrative in that institution."

De Croo contacted Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala and the presidents of the European Commission and Parliament on Friday, advocating a European and national approach.

Punishable in Belgium

The acts are punishable in Belgium because the interference took place on Belgian soil. "The cash payments did not take place in Belgium, but the interference did," said De Croo. A new national law, which came into force this week, explicitly targets interference. The Belgian federal prosecutor's office has, therefore, launched this investigation.

Action is also needed at the European level. "We need more tools to fight Russian propaganda and disinformation," said De Croo. Belgium has therefore asked Eurojust to meet and discuss this case as a matter of urgency.

De Croo also stated that he wanted to look at whether the mandates of the European Public Prosecutor and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) allowed them to pursue this Russian threat. "If not, we need to extend those mandates." He will raise the issue at next week's EU summit in Brussels. He could not confirm which MEPs were involved.

Prime minister Alexander De Croo pictured at a press conference on the mid-term results of the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union © BELGA PHOTO BENOIT DOPPAGNE

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