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article imageGerman prosecutors seek to lift far-right MP's immunity

By Michelle FITZPATRICK (AFP)     Nov 14, 2018 in World

German prosecutors on Wednesday asked parliament to lift the immunity of a prominent far-right MP, Alice Weidel, as they step up enquiries into suspicious campaign donations made to the AfD party co-leader ahead of the last general election.

The prosecutor's office of Lake Constance said it had made the request in a letter to Bundestag president Wolfgang Schaeuble.

The move is necessary to allow prosecutors to open an official probe into the dubious payments, they said in a statement.

Weidel heads the Alternative for Germany's (AfD's) parliamentary group and has long been seen as a rising star in the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam party.

But she has come under increasing pressure since German media revealed last weekend that the AfD's Lake Constance branch received 18 donations from a Swiss pharmaceutical firm, PWS, between July and September 2017, totalling some 150,000 Swiss francs (130,000 euros).

Under German law, campaign donations from non-EU countries are illegal. Switzerland, though linked to the EU through numerous treaties, is not a member of the bloc.

The payments reportedly came with the message "campaign donation Alice Weidel".

Lake Constance is the southern district where Weidel, who divides her time between Germany and Switzerland, where her partner and children live, ran for office in 2017 elections in which the AfD made huge gains.

She has insisted she has no information about the campaign donor and stressed that the money was later repaid.

- Condemnation -

But politicians from other parties have strongly condemned her handling of the affair.

Lawmaker Britta Hasselmann from the opposition Greens has accused Weidel of "playing the public for fools" by claiming she was unaware that foreign donations were illegal.

MP Johannes Kars of the Social Democrats, Chancellor Angela Merkel's junior coalition partner, has said that if the money is confirmed to have violated spending laws then Weidel "should resign".

The Frankfurter Allgemeine daily on Wednesday reported that Weidel spent some of the Swiss money on social media advertising and on a media lawyer tasked with launching proceedings against journalists.

The German journalists' federation DJV responded by calling on Weidel to step down.

"In the fight against critical journalists the AfD parliamentary leader will use any means, even apparently illegal party donations," DJV head Frank Ueberall told the Handelsblatt newspaper.

The Swiss company behind the donations told German media it was acting on behalf of "a business friend" but declined to identify the person.

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