BERLIN (Reuters) - German prosecutors have asked for far-right politician Frauke Petry's parliamentary immunity to be lifted in a case relating to allegations that she lied to election officials about her Alternative for Germany (AfD) party's finances.
The allegations, relating to the financing of AfD's 2014 Saxony state election campaign, are another blow for a party that has seen its standing in the polls collapse as a global tide of populism recedes following Britain's vote to leave the European Union and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump.
The perjury allegations, first raised by rival political parties and which Petry denies, involve claims that she and her colleagues gave differing accounts of candidates' campaign finances. Petry, the party's co-chairman, is AfD's best-known politician.
Prosecutors decided in May 2016 that there were solid enough grounds to start a preliminary investigation into the matter. Their request to have Petry's immunity lifted suggests they may be preparing to push ahead with charges against her.
"The request for Frauke Petry's immunity to be lifted has no impact on how we see the party's position," leading party member Alexander Gauland said. "She has our backing. There is a presumption of innocence."
The Saxony state parliament will now hold hearings to decide whether her immunity is to be lifted, at which Petry will be invited to make her own submissions.
"We can confirm that we received a request to lift the immunity from Frauke Petry," Saxony state parliament spokesman Thomas Schubert said.
The parliament's immunity committee will discuss the issue and let Petry explain her view on the matter.
"We don't expect a final decision before the parliamentary summer break. This means there won't be a decision before late August," Schubert said.
AfD is likely to enter Germany's federal parliament for the first time in September's elections, in which Chancellor Angela Merkel is seeking a fourth term in office.
Last year, concerns over mass immigration by Syrian war refugees and the potential costs of the eurozone debt crisis propelled the anti-EU party's support to new highs of above 15 percent in polls.
Its support has crumbled since, however, with AfD last week polling around 8 percent in surveys, only slightly above the minimum threshold of 5 percent needed to gain representation in the Bundestag parliament.
Reporting by Susanne Neumayer-Remter and Michael Nienaber; Writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Hugh Lawson