November 16, 2018 / 12:40 PM / 25 days ago

German far-right leader attacks media over donations scandal

BERLIN (Reuters) - Alice Weidel, co-leader of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), on Friday accused media that uncovered evidence of large, unexplained donations to her party of seeking to discredit her.

FILE PHOTO: Alice Weidel of the anti-immigration party Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) gestures as she delivers a speech after the announcement of the first exit polls in the Bavarian state election in Mamming near Dingolfing, Germany, October 14, 2018. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

The AfD, which is Germany’s largest opposition party but suffered lacklustre results in two regional elections last month, has been reeling since an investigative media consortium alleged Weidel’s local party had received 130,000 euros ($147,251.00) from a Swiss firm in 2017.

The party later also said it had received 150,000 euros from a Belgian - later revealed to be a Dutch - foundation. The AfD returned both sums after concerns were raised about a lack of clarity over funding, party officials told German media.

The affair threatens to overshadow an AfD congress this weekend that some had seen as an opportunity for a relaunch after a difficult period for the anti-immigrant party.

Donations from non-German citizens living in non-EU countries such as Switzerland are illegal in Germany, while all gifts of more than 50,000 euros must be declared in a parliamentary register - something the AfD did not do for either the Swiss or the Dutch donations.

Weidel criticised the media treatment of her role.

“The accusations made against me regarding apparently illegal party donations are known to me only from the media,” she said. “They lack any basis in fact and are an attempt to discredit me personally and politically.”

She did not say which details in the media reports she was contesting, adding that she would not say anything further while a planned investigation by prosecutors was under way.

The AfD did not immediately respond to a request to clarify precisely what allegations she was rejecting in her statement.

PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY

Prosecutors have asked for Weidel’s parliamentary immunity to be lifted, an indication that they wish to carry out a preliminary examination of the affair.

The party’s other co-leader, Alexander Gauland, has so far stood by her, but the head of the party in her home state of Baden-Wuerttemberg told the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper she should resign if the donations turned out to have been illegal.

The party is holding a congress this weekend to choose its candidates for next year’s European Parliament elections, the next major test of whether it has managed to recover the momentum that saw it burst into parliament with 13 percent of votes cast in last year’s national election.

The AfD made little progress in elections in Bavaria and Hessen in October, which were both marked by surging support for the pro-immigration Greens, their ideological antithesis.

Additional reporting by Toby Sterling in Amsterdam; Editing by Gareth Jones

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