Le Pen’s National Front charged with fraud

France's far-right National Front was charged Wednesday with misuse of assets and complicity in fraud in an ongoing probe into its campaign financing.

Le Pen's National Front charged with fraud
Marine Le Pen, checks to see whether her father is around. Photo: AFP

Investigating judges suspect senior FN officials and associated companies defrauded the state by inflating campaign expenses for the 2012 legislative elections.

“We are innocent of all the accusations against us,” said party treasurer Wallerand de Saint-Just.

A “micro-party”, named Jeanne, is suspected of having received illicit financing from an events company, which has already been charged along with six other people in the probe.

The charges against the FN come three months before regional elections seen as a  litmus test ahead of 2017 presidential polls.

The party remains on top of opinion polls despite its legal woes and a bitter family feud in which leader Marine Le Pen ousted her father and party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen over a string of controversial remarks.

While the FN remains anti-EU and anti-immigration it has worked hard to soften its image since Marine took over in 2011 and has seen its popularity soar, enjoying a series of election successes.

Several polls have shown she could pose a serious challenge to the conservative Republicans of former president Nicolas Sarkozy as well as the ruling Socialists in 2017.

The FN is also under investigation by the European Parliament for suspected fraud totalling 7.5 million euros ($8.1 million) over salaries paid to EU parliamentary assistants.

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France’s far-right patriarch refused questioning in EU fraud case

Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of France's far-right National Front party, refused to submit to police questioning last month as part of an EU funding inquiry, claiming immunity as a European Parliament lawmaker, his adviser said Sunday.

France's far-right patriarch refused questioning in EU fraud case

Le Pen is one of several party MEPs suspected of using European Parliament funds provided for assistants to pay more than 20 France-based party staff.

If convicted, the party could be ordered to repay €7 million ($8.2 million), and the judges pre-emptively seized the subsidies.

An EU tribunal has already determined that Le Pen must reimburse €320,000.

But when police from France's anti-corruption squad tried to question him last month at his office just outside Paris, he claimed MEP immunity and ordered them to leave.

“He was prepared to receive them, but they had such arrogant attitudes which Jean-Marie Le Pen refused to accept,” his adviser Lorrain de Saint Affrique told AFP, confirming a report in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper.

Le Pen, 90, sits as an independent after being thrown out of his party by his daughter Marine Le Pen in 2015 for saying the Nazi gas chambers were a mere “detail” of history.

He has also often made disparaging statements against Muslims and Roma which have earned him a string of hate speech convictions.

His daughter has renamed the party the National Rally in an effort to shed its xenophobic and anti-Semitic image.

The EU funding inquiry has led French judges to withhold €2 million of public subsidies for the party, a move which Marine Le Pen has denounced as a “death sentence”.

Without the funds, she warns the party will be bankrupt by September.