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AfD worker accused of ordering arson in Ukraine

January 15, 2019

A Bundestag employee of the Alternative for Germany party has been accused of ordering a firebombing in Ukraine. Manuel Ochsenreiter denies all accusations, but he is known to have connections to pro-Russia separatists.

Manuel Ochsenreiter, AfD
Manuel Ochsenreiter denies all the accusationsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/V. Prokofyev

A parliamentary worker for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has been accused of ordering a false flag arson attack in an attempt to discredit Ukraine's government.

Three men are on trial in Poland following last February's firebombing of a Hungarian culture center in Uzhorod, western Ukraine. According to Polish authorities, the attack was to be attributed to Ukrainian neo-Nazis in order to sour relations between Ukraine and Hungary.

One of the accused, named only as Michal P., told the court that the attack, in which Molotov cocktails were used, was ordered by Manuel Ochsenreiter, who works in the office of AfD Bundestag member Markus Frohnmaier.

Michal, who is also charged with funding a terrorist organization, told the Krakow court that Ochsenreiter gave him €1,500, plus money for a plane ticket, to find people to carry out the attack.

Frohnmaier in Stuttgart
The AfD's Frohnmaier said Ochsenreiter should be presumed innocentImage: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Weißbrod

Read more: How Europe's far-right parties view the EU

Secret messages

Michal told the court that he had received €500 in advance, hidden in a book sent by post, and €1,000 handed over in person by Ochsenreiter at Berlin-Tegel Airport. He testified that he and Ochsenreiter had communicated in English via the messaging app Telegram, and that he later sent the AfD worker videos of the attack on the app.

According to Michal's testimony, Ochsenreiter had been particularly insistent that smoke traces be visible on the outside of the building.

Michal is a member of Poland's National Radical Camp, an ultranationalist organization that supports the pro-Russia separatists in their war in eastern Ukraine.

Polish prosecutors have not yet said whether an investigation has been opened into Ochsenreiter. The journalist and author Anton Shekhovtsov tweeted a photo showing Michal sitting together with the AfD worker.

Ochsenreiter's lawyer told the US broadcaster Radio Free Europe that his client denied all the accusations. Ochsenreiter is the editor of the far-right publication Zuerst! (First!), which did not respond to a request for comment.

Nor did Frohnmaier's office respond to DW, but the lawmaker posted a statement on his Facebook page on Monday, which read: "My employee expressly denied the accusations to me as freely invented. As an employer one has the responsibility for one's employees. The presumption of innocence applies, of course, to the employees of parliamentarians too."

Should prosecutors open an investigation into Ochsenreiter and press charges, Frohnmaier wrote, "then, but only then," would he suspend his employee. Frohnmaier also accused the media of "enjoying writing people out of their job."

Speaking to the magazine Kontraste, Frohnmaier speculated that Michal had implicated Ochsenreiter "to improve his own position" in the trial.

Read more: Protests as far-right AfD wrangles over Europe candidates

Russian spy?

The case could include another awkward connection for the AfD, the No. 3 party in the Bundestag. In the picture posted by Shekhovtsov, dated 2015, Ochsenreiter is seated next to Mateusz Piskorski, an activist whom Polish authorities imprisoned on suspicion of spying for the Russian secret services (both the domestic FSB and the foreign SWR) from 2009 through 2016.

In 2017, the Süddeutsche Zeitung quoted a classified document from the German intelligence agencies that described Piskorski as a "paid pro-Russia agitator." Media reported at the time that Piskorski had maintained close contacts with several AfD functionaries — including Ochsenreiter, who took part in election observation missions organized by Piskorski in eastern Ukrainian regions.

Piskorski, a former representative in the Polish parliament and publicist who co-founded the think tank European Center of Geopolitical Analysis, has been in a Polish prison since May 2016, but is yet to be charged by authorities.

In response to an official information request submitted last year by the Free Democrats (FDP), the German government refused to comment further on intelligence agencies' assessments, citing security.

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Benjamin Knight Kommentarbild PROVISORISCH
Ben Knight Ben Knight is a journalist in Berlin who mainly writes about German politics.@BenWernerKnight
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