Frauke Petry, the former co-leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), has been accused of nabbing member data before leaving the party, according to a report on Friday.
According to information published by German news magazine Stern, the party's executive board intends to sue Petry for the alleged data theft.
The AfD believes Petry accessed the party's data bank in which the addresses and telephone numbers of the party's 30,000 members are kept. The data could be highly valuable to Petry if she were to move to form her own political group alongside fellow AfD defector and husband Marcus Pretzell.
German news outlet Der Spiegel subsequently reported online that it had seen emails between Petry and the AfD's data protection officer, from shortly before September's election, suggesting Petry had copied the data.
In a response to the data protection officer, Spiegel quoted Petry as saying that she had accessed the database from a new login, but only after "my personal access was massively reduced weeks earlier without information and without justification." Petry reportedly wrote that she was only "informing myself about the current member status" and that she subsequently deleted the data.
AfD reactions to the initial Stern report were mixed. Party spokesman Christian Lüth confirmed to the AFP news agency that the AfD believed Petry took party member data, but that it needs to be investigated further. He said that the party was considering its legal options but hadn't yet taken measures against Petry.
But Julian Flak, one of the members of the AfD executive board, appeared to deny at least aspects of the Stern report, writing on Twitter that it was "fake news."
Petry's legal troubles
Friday's report added to a week of legal woes for Petry, as prosecutors in Dresden charged the Saxony state lawmaker and former AfD head with perjury over statements on campaign financing.
Shortly after the AfD won more 12.6 percent of the vote in last month's national election in Germany, Petry announced that she wouldn't be representing the AfD in the Bundestag — despite winning a direct mandate in parliament on the AfD ticket.
Petry, who became the party's co-leader in 2015, announced last Friday that she would be stepping down from her post and officially left the party, hinting that she wanted to form a new political group.
She was soon followed by several other newly elected AfD lawmakers and regional MPs — including her husband, Pretzell.
Until recently, Pretzell headed the AfD's state parliamentary group in North Rhine-Westphalia. On Friday, businessman Markus Wagner was elected to replace Pretzell, and urged him to give up his mandate in the state parliament.
On Wednesday, newly elected AfD lawmaker Mario Mieruch became the latest politician to announce that he was leaving the party. Like others, Mieruch cited right-wing extremist tendencies within the AfD as his reason for exiting.
Last week, Bernhard Wildt, the co-leader of the AfD in the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, and fellow lawmakers Matthias Manthei and Christel Weissig announced they would leave.
The co-head of the AfD's parliamentary party in the Bundestag, Alice Weidel, said that further defections cannot be ruled out.
"Perhaps there will be one or two further exits — I cannot rule that out anymore," Weidel said on Thursday.