Exclusive: German prosecutors, prompted by Reuters report, search home of pro-Kremlin activists

By and
  • Prosecutors say officers took computers, documents
  • Kolbasnikova: we haven't broken German law
  • Urges supporters to rally in Cologne

BERLIN/NEW YORK, March 27 (Reuters) - German prosecutors said on Monday they searched the home of two pro-Kremlin activists, looking for evidence to corroborate a Reuters report that the couple donated cash to buy radios for Russian soldiers in Ukraine.

Reuters reported in January that Max Schlund and his romantic partner Elena Kolbasnikova donated funds collected from supporters in Germany to a Russian army division fighting in Ukraine, and the money was used to purchase walkie-talkie radios, headphones and telephones.

European Union sanctions ban supplying, or financing the purchase of certain goods for the Russian military. The banned list includes radio gear. Under German law, the criminal penalty for anyone found to have violated sanctions is up to five years in prison.

Ulf Willuhn, a representative of the Cologne public prosecutors, said officers executed a search warrant on Monday morning at the couple's address, and took computers and folders containing written documents.

Asked by a Reuters reporter to comment on the move by prosecutors, Kolbasnikova said: "There's nothing for you to celebrate. Our time has not yet come, and yours is running out. Because neither I, nor my husband, have violated German law in any way, and justice will be restored."

Willuhn said prosecutors would use the evidence they took to evaluate if Schlund and Kolbasnikova had violated paragraph 18 of the German foreign trade and payments act, which sets out punishments for breaches of international sanctions.

He said the search was triggered in part by the Reuters reporting on the donation to buy gear for the Russian army division in Ukraine.

Alongside that, he said prosecutors had also been looking for evidence of whether the couple violated section 140 of the German criminal code, which covers speaking approvingly of criminal acts.

That line of inquiry relates to allegations, reported in the German media, that the couple displayed the "Z" symbol, used by supporters of the Russian invasion, and re-posted a recruitment ad for pro-Kremlin military contractors.

In an audio message sent to supporters on social media on Monday, Kolbasnikova said she was not surprised the search had happened because the German authorities were "committing lawlessness" to try to silence political opponents.

"We will keep fighting ... God is on our side, and Moscow is at our backs. Three cheers for victory!" she said.

In a separate message to supporters, she said prosecutors were trying to build a case against her and her partner over providing help for the Russian army.

Kolbasnikova called on her supporters to attend a previously scheduled rally in Cologne on March 29 to protest in support of free speech and against what she described as "Russophobia".

A spokeswoman for Russia's foreign ministry, Maria Zakharova, said this month that Kolbasnikova was the victim of persecution by the German authorities.

Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova in New York and Mari Saito in Berlin; Editing by Alison Williams

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