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Maximilian Krah, a far-right EU lawmaker from Germany, is under scrutiny by the EU prosecutor’s office for potential contract fraud.
According to three lawmakers from Krah’s Identity and Democracy (ID) group in the European Parliament, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) is examining Krah’s role in a public procurement bid following an investigation by the EU Anti-Fraud Office , known as OLAF. The EPPO, unlike OLAF, has the power to initiate criminal proceedings.
The case involves the process used by Krah to award a communications contract to his ID group. According to a letter sent to OLAF and seen by POLITICO, Krah allegedly conspired with several German companies to rig the tender for Polifakt, a company linked to him. The contract was eventually terminated but could have been worth tens of thousands of euros in EU funds.
OLAF then sent a letter to the EPPO, dated March 14, saying the office had closed its investigation but suggesting the prosecutor look into the case, according to two people who saw the note.
“It appears that the facts may constitute potential criminal behavior (by Maximilian Krah) to qualify as fraud affecting the financial interests of the European Union,” it read, according to a European Parliament official who reviewed it.
Krah is adamant that the case against him is a fabricated plot to harm him politically – part of a wider power struggle between the nine members of Germany’s Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in Brussels, who have differing views on China and Russia’s war in Ukraine. And it comes just as the AfD prepares to choose its top candidates for the 2024 European elections.
“There are obviously people who don’t like to see me [ranked] one or two, and it creates attacks,” Krah said.
“These attacks do not come from the political opposition,” he added. “They come from within. Someone fabricated these accusations. These are constructed accusations.
Krah maintained that he was being treated as “guilty until proven guilty”.
Both OLAF and the EPPO declined to comment on individual cases at POLITICO’s request.
The case began, Krah said, with an anonymous tip sent to OLAF, a translated version of which was seen by POLITICO.
The letter links Krah and his chief of staff, Jörg Sobolewski, to Polifakt, as well as the two other companies involved in the tender – Hinato and Brandmarker.
The letter also said the contract “involves several hundred thousand euros,” but Krah said the cap was 100,000 euros.
Sobolewski also denied any wrongdoing, saying he and Krah only suggested company names to ID Group secretariat officials, who then handled the bidding process. Both men pushed back against OLAF’s claims that there were special links between them and Polifakt, saying it was just one of the few PR firms working with the AfD.
Although the two men acknowledged that the language used in the three offers was similar, they argued that the companies had probably used the same model to apply for the contract because they used the same translator. “I had nothing to do with it,” Krah said.
“The question is: do they only share the model? Or did they also negotiate the price? Krah asked. “That’s the only open question. But if they did price negotiations, then that’s their misbehavior and not mine.
Josef Konrad, Director at Polifakt, said there was no malicious intent or wrongdoing on the part of his company, “other than using the same model due to the complicated nature of the bidding process , which is written entirely in legal English”.
Brandmarker did not respond to a request for comment. Attempts to reach Hinato failed.
Either way, Krah pointed out, no money was spent and the proceedings were eventually stopped at his request.
But since it is the responsibility of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office to examine the case before dismissing it, Krah acknowledged that he now had a political problem. He has already been suspended by the ID group since February 8 due to the OLAF investigation.
“I am completely in a Kafkaesque situation,” he said.
Krah hinted that the fraud allegations against him may have come from Nicolaus Fest, another AfD lawmaker in Brussels, who has come under fire within the AfD party for refusing to make financial contributions to the national party.
The acting head of the AfD delegation, MEP Joachim Kuhs, even openly stated that he believed Fest was behind the anonymous whistleblowing to OLAF.
Fest pushed that back.
“Mr. Krah is still trying to pretend it’s a personal vendetta,” Fest said. this call for tenders.
Fest said the allegation that he tipped off OLAF was “nonsense”, adding that the original letter contained “insider knowledge which I could not possess”.
Separately, the AfD has begun proceedings to expel Fest from the party, according to an internal document viewed by POLITICO. The document cites “behaviour prejudicial to the party due to non-payment of warrant fees and false and dishonorable allegations.”
Fest confirmed to POLITICO that proceedings were underway to remove him but said he would appeal and a final decision is unlikely before the end of the year.
Fest refused to make contributions to the party after being upset by a leaked message he sent in which he described the late European Parliament President David Sassoli as a “dirty pig”.
Sarah Wheaton and Lili Bayer contributed reporting.