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France: Le Pen faces graft claims ahead of French runoff

April 17, 2022

French prosecutors are looking into a EU report which accuses far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and her associates of embezzling over €600,000.

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen and her aides allegedly misappropriated EU funds while serving in the European ParliamentImage: Julien De Rosa/AFP

With a week to go before far-right candidate Marine Le Pen squares off against incumbent Emmanuel Macron in the presidential election runoff, the nationalist politician faces a potential embezzlement scandal.

On Sunday, Paris prosecutors told the DPA news agency they were studying the accusations against Le Pen and her party contained in a report from the European Union's anti-fraud office OLAF. Separately, a source in the European Parliament told the AFP news agency that the parliament will try to recover the money owed by Marine le Pen.

What is Le Pen suspected of?

OLAF indicates that the nationalist politician embezzled nearly €137,000 ($148,000) in EU funds when she was a lawmaker in the European Parliament between 2004 and 2017.

The agency alleged that Le Pen and others used the EU funds for national political purposes, personal expenses or services that would benefit commercial companies close to her Rassemblement National (National Rally) party.

The funds were also allegedly used by the former far-right grouping in the European Parliament, Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF).

The report also names three former lawmakers from Le Pen's party — her father Jean-Marie, her former partner Louis Aliot and the party's former vice president Bruno Gollnisch.

The three are said to have embezzled a total of €486,000, redirecting it for for national policy purposes or to support service providers that are close to the party.

None are accused of profiting directly.

Part of the OLAF reports was published Saturday by Mediapart, the investigative news site.

How has Le Pen reacted to the accusations?

Le Pen's lawyer Rodolphe Bosselut, who is quoted in the Mediapart report, denied the accusations, raising suspicions over the "timing" of the report.

He said the presidential hopeful reserved the right to take legal action against anyone linked to the party who may have committed misconduct without her knowledge.

The attorney added that Le Pen "has not been summoned by any French judicial authority" and slammed the failure to send him or his client the final OLAF report.

The investigation was opened in 2016, Bosselut said, and Le Pen was questioned in writing by post in March 2021.

National Rally president Jordan Bardella told Europe 1 radio that the French public "will not be fooled by attempts of the European Union and the European institutions (...) to interfere in the presidential campaign and harm Marine Le Pen." 

He said his party had filed two legal complaints against OLAF, and that it would be filing a third in response to the report.

Aliot, who is now mayor of the southern French city of Perpignan, also denied the accusations in comments made to broadcaster Franceinfo on Sunday.

Previous embezzlement case pending

The embezzlement accusations are not the first against Le Pen and her party.

Since June 2017, Le Pen has been under investigation on suspicion of having given party members fake jobs as assistants at the European Parliament.

She is accused of "embezzling public funds" and "complicity" in this crime as part of the judicial investigation.

Macron remains in the lead

Macron, a pro-European Union centrist, won the first round of the presidential election on April 10, with Le Pen coming second, setting up a similar runoff battle as in 2017.

The pair are due to clash in a live TV debate on Wednesday evening.

Macron is seen winning the second round with a 55.5% share of the vote, according to a poll published Saturday by Ipsos-Sopra Steria Poll For France Info And Le Parisien-Aujourd'hui En France.

However, he must still convince enough supporters of socialist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon — who came third in the first round — to support him, rather than abstaining or spoiling their ballot.

Le Pen has softened her party's anti-immigration image and sought to position herself as the candidate that will solve the country's cost of living crisis.

mm/dj (AFP, dpa, Reuters)