Russia accused of bribing MEPs

The European Parliament is investigating a Russian-funded network that paid EU politicians to take pro-Russian positions. The suspected politicians have not been named, but they are said to have come from Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands and Poland.

The Czech Republic said on Wednesday that its secret service discovered that the network was spreading Russian propaganda through the Prague-based news site Voice of Europe. This is originally a Dutch website with a right-wing extremist stance.

Moscow paid money to MEPs to promote Russian propaganda, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Thursday. The fact that Russia is trying to exert Moscow-friendly influence in EU circles has been a subject of increasing concern and reservations in the EU for some time. 

The investigation focuses on Voice of Europe, a Dutch listed company that has recently been sold. The company described itself as 'uncensored news from Europe and the world' bieden. Two weeks ago it organized a debate in Strasbourg attended by members of the Spanish Vox and the far-right Forum for Democracy in the Netherlands. The company's website has been down since last Wednesday evening.

A Brussels spokesperson added that parliament already bans access to the EU buildings for media on EU sanctions lists. One of those sanctioned is Ukrainian pro-Kremlin politician Viktor Medvedchuk, who had used the Voice of Europe website to spread propaganda against Ukraine's "territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence". 

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said the uncovered operation aimed to destabilize the whole of Europe, and revealed that other European countries had since launched their own investigations. Poland's Internal Security Service said on Thursday it was also carrying out searches in the capital Warsaw and the city of Tychy as part of a joint investigation.

Reports of Russian bribes of EU politicians in Strasbourg emerge just three months before the June European elections. Since December 2022, the European Parliament has been shocked by the so-called Qatargate scandal, surrounding suspicions of corruption involving Qatar and Morocco.