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Belgium opens probe into pro-Russia network accused of paying MEPs

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Belgium’s federal prosecutor opened an investigation into the pro-Russian propaganda network which is accused of paying MEPs to promote the Kremlin’s agenda.

“Our judicial authorities have now confirmed that this interference is subject to a prosecution,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said during a press conference Friday.

Eric Van Duyse, spokesperson for the federal prosecutor, confirmed to POLITICO that an investigation was opened Thursday evening, on the legal grounds of an attempt to influence democratic procedures. De Croo said that no payments took place in Belgium itself, but that doesn’t impede an investigation.

“The influencing is, of course, with regard to a democratic institution that has a seat in our country, so the federal prosecutor has decided to open an investigation on what has happened there,” De Croo said.

The Belgian probe is a sign that the EU’s Russiagate scandal is escalating, as it marks one of the first formal actions taken after Czech authorities sanctioned the news site Voice of Europe, which Prague said was a pro-Russian influence operation aimed at influencing the European election.

The Czechs also sanctioned Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and a person called Artem Pavlovich Marchevskyi presumed to be involved in the operation.

De Croo was one of the first European leaders to speak up about the influence operation two weeks ago when he told the Belgian parliament that Russia had approached MEPs and “paid” them.

He gave more details Friday, saying that the “Moscow objectives are clear.”

Russia wants to “help elect more pro-Russian candidates to the European Parliament and to reinforce a certain pro-Russian narrative in that institution,” he said.

This story has been updated.

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