BERLIN, Germany — The figurehead of Germany’s far-right AfD party Alexander Gauland is being investigated for tax evasion, prosecutors said Thursday, after his parliamentary immunity was lifted by MPs.
Gauland, 78, is one of the most prominent figures in the populist “Alternative for Germany” party, which rails against immigration, Islam and environmentalism.
On Thursday, German parliamentarians voted to remove his legal immunity to facilitate the probe, first reported by German media last March.
Lawmakers were asked to lift the immunity to allow for “search and seizure decisions ordered by a court” to be carried out.
Frankfurt prosecutors said they would search Gauland’s properties on Thursday as part of the investigation.
German weekly Der Spiegel reports that prosecutors in Frankfurt are investigating whether Gauland failed to submit his personal taxes correctly.
A spokesperson for AfD told AFP that the investigations concerned “old proceedings from the year before last,” adding that the party would give a further statement later Thursday.
The case is not believed to be related to recent investigations into other AfD politicians over illegal party funding.
Gauland was criticized earlier this week for appearing to sleep during a speech given by President Reuven Rivlin to the German parliament marking 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz.
Last April, AfD was fined more than 400,000 euros ($450,000) for having received illegal campaign contributions during regional elections.
The blow prompted the party’s treasurer to write to members last month that it is in “serious financial distress”.
Founded seven years ago, the AfD is now Germany’s largest opposition party in terms of parliamentary seats.
In recent years, it has celebrated unprecedented electoral successes, entering the national parliament for the first time in 2017, but has also caused outrage with its challenge to Germany’s culture of remembrance for Nazi crimes.
In 2018, Gauland said that the 12-year dictatorship of Adolf Hitler, which oversaw the systematic murder of six million Jews, was a “speck of bird shit in more than 1000 years of successful German history.”
AfD chairman for two years until he gave up the post last year, Gauland is still the party’s parliamentary leader in the German Bundestag.
The probe against Gauland is separate from an investigation into his fellow Alternative for Germany leader in parliament, Alice Weidel, who is under scrutiny over possible illegal party funding. She denies the allegation.