Berliner Tageblatt - Germany's AfD bans scandal-hit lead candidate from EU election events

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Germany's AfD bans scandal-hit lead candidate from EU election events
Germany's AfD bans scandal-hit lead candidate from EU election events / Photo: © AFP/File

Germany's AfD bans scandal-hit lead candidate from EU election events

Germany's far-right AfD party on Wednesday banned its leading candidate from EU election campaign events, as it battled to draw a line under a series of scandals that has sparked a break with its French allies.

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Maximilian Krah, the Alternative for Germany's top candidate in the upcoming vote, is being investigated for suspicious links to Russia and China.

Compounding the AfD's woes, comments Krah made over the weekend about the SS paramilitary force in Nazi Germany led France's National Rally (RN) party to announce a split with the AfD on Tuesday.

Summoned to a crisis meeting on Wednesday with the AfD's top brass, Krah said following talks that he will leave the party's federal steering committee.

"The last thing that we need now is a debate about me. The AfD must keep its unity," Krah told Welt newspaper.

"For this reason, I will not make any further campaign appearances and will step down as a member of the federal committee."

Although Krah has become a liability, the anti-immigration party is stuck with him at the top of its list for the June 9 elections, as current rules bar any modifications after March 18.

The only way in which a candidate can be scrapped would be a criminal conviction carrying a jail term of at least five years.

Krah can however himself decide not to take on the MEP mandate following the election.

- 'Lessons not learned' -

The AfD was polling at over 20 percent at the turn of the year, when it capitalised on discontent about rising immigration and a weak economy.

But it has recorded a steady slide in support in the face of recent scandals, with the latest survey at 15 percent.

Krah is at the centre of a deepening crisis after one of his aides in the European Parliament was arrested on suspicion of spying for China.

Krah and another AfD candidate for the EU elections, Petr Bystron, have also been forced to deny allegations they accepted money to spread pro-Russian positions on a Moscow-financed news website.

But German prosecutors have launched a preliminary investigation against Krah himself over reports of suspicious payments received from China and Russia.

The bad news for the AfD piled up further on Tuesday when France's National Rally announced it "decided to no longer sit with" AfD deputies in the EU parliament.

The RN said it was going to create some distance from the AfD after Krah, in a weekend interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica, said that someone who had been a member of the SS paramilitary force in Nazi Germany was "not automatically a criminal".

The RN had already been irked by an investigation by media group Correctiv in January which indicated AfD members had discussed the idea of mass deportations at a meeting with extremists, leading to a wave of protests across Germany.

"We had frank discussions" with the AfD, Alexandre Loubet told AFP on Tuesday. "Lessons were not learned so we are taking the consequences," he said.

The RN and AfD had been the key members of an EU parliament group called Identity and Democracy that also included several other European far-right parties.