Members of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) received a sponsored flight to Moscow during the 2017 campaign, German media reported on Tuesday, citing Russian sources. Frauke Petry (left in photo), then the AfD's co-leader; her husband, Marcus Pretzell (right), a member of the European Parliament; and Julian Flak, the chairman of the party's national convention at the time, flew to Moscow in a private jet in February 2017, according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Flak and Pretzell confirmed the report; Petry, who, along with her husband, left the AfD to pursue new goals after leading the party into the mainstream, has thus far kept mum, though she does not deny that she was in Moscow in February 2017. The chairman of the parliament's foreign affairs committee, Norbert Röttgen (CDU), has demanded clarification from the AfD.
"For which state or federal parliamentary deputy would a Russian sponsor charter a private plane and pay €25,000 ($29,000)?" Röttgen asked in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung — a question clearly meant to be rhetorical. He was implying that the AfD figures had been bought.
Pretzell said the politicians were not on party business when they flew to Moscow on the underwritten flight. Had they been traveling as members of the European Parliament, Petry and Pretzell would have needed to provided the names of the person who had funded their trip to the legislature's administration, which they did not do. If the free flight were ruled to be revenue as defined by Germany's Political Parties Act, which prohibits campaign funding from outside of the European Union, it could be considered an illegal foreign contribution.
Russia has built relationships with far-right parties across Europe and around the world and uses social media to stoke support for racist and xenophobic candidates. However, until now, no report had directly linked Russian money to some of the shrillest voices at the margins of Germany's political establishment.
"But this is the first time that an until-now-assumed connection to the AfD has been demonstrated," the Green Bundestag deputy Omid Nouripour told the newspaper. "That is fatal and shocking. The AfD is the extension of Putin's arm in the German parliament."
It has not yet been reported who exactly paid for the flight.
mkg/kms (FAZ, Spiegel, SZ)