Berlin prosecutors are investigating a far-right German journalist who was implicated by a defendant in a Polish court of involvement in the firebombing of a Hungarian cultural center in western Ukraine last year.
The preliminary investigation into Manuel Ochsenreiter, a vocal supporter of Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine who has been interviewed numerous times in Russian state media, is based on “suspicion of serious arson,” a spokesperson for the Berlin prosecutor’s office told RFE/RL on January 18.
The existence of the investigation into Ochsenreiter was first reported on January 17 by the German newspaper Die Zeit, which cited its own “information.”
The confirmation of the probe comes four days after a Polish defendant, one of three currently on trial for the February 2018 firebombing in the Ukrainian city of Uzhhorod, told a Krakow court that Ochsenreiter had directed and financed the attack.
The incident, in which no one was injured, and a similar attack weeks later fanned tensions between Budapest and Kyiv over a Ukrainian law that Hungary says infringes on the rights of ethnic Hungarians to receive education in their native language in Ukraine.
The suspects allegedly intended to make it look as if Ukrainian ultranationalists were responsible for the incident, which included the painting of Nazi symbols on the headquarters of the Hungarian Cultural Association in Uzhhorod, the capital of the western Zakarpattya region.
The three Polish defendants currently on trial all have had previous links to far-right political movements.
Ochsenreiter, who had worked for a member of Germany’s parliament from the anti-immigration AfD party, denied earlier to RFE/RL that he had any involvement in the attack.
A representative for the journalist, German lawyer Ralf Hoecker, told RFE/RL in a January 14 e-mail that the allegation was “false.”
No criminal charges against Ochsenreiter have been announced by Polish or German authorities.
Neither Hoecker nor Ochsenreiter immediately responded to a January 18 e-mail seeking comment on the preliminary investigation by Berlin prosecutors.
Markus Frohnmaier, the German parliamentarian for whom Ochsenreiter had worked since September, said on the opening day of the trial that he intended to keep the journalist on as a consultant until he was charged with a crime – and that he would only put him on leave pending the results of a trial.
But Frohnmaier was quoted by Die Zeit on January 18 as saying that Ochsenreiter had “offered” to be released from his position as a consultant, and that the lawmaker had agreed.