European Parliament takes first step to lifting Le Pen′s immunity over misused funds | News | DW | 26.04.2017
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European Parliament takes first step to lifting Le Pen's immunity over misused funds

The move follows a request by French prosecutors to further an investigation into whether Le Pen abused EU funds to pay party assistants. The presidential candidate has dismissed the allegations as a "bare-faced lie."

The European Parliament on Wednesday formally began the procedure of lifting far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen's parliamentary immunity over allegations that she abused EU funds.

French prosecutors last week called on European lawmakers to remove the National Front (FN) leader's immunity to further investigations into alleged misuse of EU money to pay national party assistants.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani told lawmakers in Brussels Wednesday that the request "has been forwarded to the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, which is in charge of these issues."

Le Pen is accused of paying her bodyguard, Thierry Legier, and her chief of staff, Catherine Griset, with EU parliamentary funds. Le Pen is believed to have submitted a "fictional" work contract before the European Parliament presenting Legier as an assistant, while Griset was living near Paris and working on behalf of the FN in France rather than at the European assembly.

Both were questioned by investigators in February, although only Griset was charged with concealment.

As both a member of the European Parliament and the FN presidential candidate, Le Pen employs staff members whose roles are either connected to domestic or European politics. However, European lawmakers are strictly prohibited from spending European money on their domestic political duties.

Le Pen's has denounced the legal probe as political interference and described the allegation against her as a "bare-faced lie."

Le Pen's long list of sanctions

The European Parliament had previously accused the FN's leader of paying party staff with EU funds during the 2011-2012 legislature, saying that she defrauded it of nearly 340,000 euros (370,000). Le Pen also denied any wrongdoing in this instance, citing an accounting adjustment. Her refusal, so far, to reimburse the money has led the European Parliament to begin docking her MEP salary and allowances by than 7,000 euros per month.

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The far-right presidential candidate was already stripped of her parliamentary immunity in a separate case last month. The move allowed a Paris court to prosecute her for posting images of "Islamic State" (IS) brutality on Twitter in 2015. In France, the offense can carry a penalty of three years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros.

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Le Pen captured 21.4 percent of the vote in the first round of the French presidential election on Sunday, finishing second behind the centrist banker-turned-politician Emmanuel Macron and making it to the final run-off.

Her platform included holding a referendum on France's membership of the EU, limiting immigration, increasing control on the country's borders and expelling Islamic extremists.

Polls see the 39-year-old Macron beating Le Pen in the final run-off on May 7 by around 60 percent to 40 percent.

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