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Le Pen forced to justify €9m loan from Russia

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France's far right has turned to a Russian lender to beef up its war chest ahead of next year's local elections. Photo: AFP
10:37 CET+01:00
Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s cash-strapped far-right National Front (FN), on Sunday justified her party's €9 million loan from a Russian Bank saying it was needed to beef up their war chest ahead of local elections, saying “French banks won’t lend to us”.

The loan, from Moscow-based First Czech Russian Bank (FCRB), was signed in September and was first revealed by French investigative website Mediapart on Saturday.

In an interview with French daily Le Monde, Le Pen said her party had had no choice but go to a Russian bank for funds, with the departmental elections coming up early next year.

“It’s scandalous, the French banks won’t lend to us,” she said, insisting that the fact that the bank is Russian had nothing to do with the party’s choice of lender.

“We had thrown out hooks everywhere: in Spain, Italy, the United States, Asia and Russia. And we signed with the first one who agreed and we’re very happy about it,” she told Le Monde.

The National Front’s treasurer Wallerand de Saint-Just told French radio broadcaster France Info about the party’s financial woes, confirming also the difficulties in securing funds from French banks. “No bank wants to give us a cent,” he said.

“I reached out to a large number of French and European banks and I got some replies, but they were always negative.” 

The National Front's bank Société Générale said in November that it would no longer be mending any money to the political party.

“We have been looking for loans for some time, to fund our election campaigns. But our bank, like most French and European lenders, categorically refuses to give the FN and FN candidates the slightest cent,” Saint-Just said.

Speculation persists however that there may be something more sinister behind the National Front's Russian bank loan, which comes at a time when ties between the the EU and Moscow are strained due to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

It also comes as a report was published in Moscow that laid out how Vladimir Putin could help influence internal politics in EU member states by bolstering far right parties, like the National Front.

The report, seen by German media, suggested Russia could make loans to far-right parties, which like the National Front in France, have a pro-Putin and pro-Moscow stance.

In France, Le Pen however rejected claims from critics suggesting the move had political implications in the sense that the FN is trying to firm up its relationship with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

“Ridiculous,” she said, adding “these insinuations are outrageous and offensive. That obtaining a loan would determine our international stance. We’ve held that (pro-Russian) line for a long time,” she said.

Le Pen doesn't hide her respect for the Russian leader, and was quoted by Le Monde in September as saying she has “a certain admiration for the man. He proposes a patriotic economic model, radically different from what the Americans are imposing on us”.

In recent weeks Le Pen has also criticized the French government for bowing to pressure from the US and Nato by refusing to deliver a warship to Moscow.

ANALYSIS - Jean-Yves Camus, a specialist on the far right in France from think tank IRIS.

“I don’t believe the National Front’s story that they are penniless.

“It’s true French banks won’t lend them money but if they want to borrow money there are banks around the world, not just in Russia.

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“This is a case of Russia or Putin trying to send a message to governments in EU countries to say ‘be careful with your position towards Russia because if you don’t support us we will support parties who are a threat to you.

“It’s basically a kind of blackmail.”

“It’s not a wise move on the part of Russia, because the French public, many of whom are sympathetic to the Russian position on Ukraine, do not like foreign countries meddling in their politics. So they will lose potential support.

“As for the National Front, their supporters don’t care where the money comes from. They were pro-Russian before. They like the idea of a strong man with an iron will and Putin certainly fits that description.

“The French government will no doubt be worried by any attempt to influence internal politics. It may influence their own decision on whether or not to deliver the two mistral ships to Moscow.

by Louise Nordstrom

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