Le Pen in ‘first’ head of state meeting while in Lebanon

France's far-right leader and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen will meet Lebanon's president on Monday, her first official head-to-head talks with a head of state.

Le Pen in 'first' head of state meeting while in Lebanon

The trip will allow her to meet “leading politicians and religious figures” in Lebanon, her National Front (FN) party said Saturday.

Le Pen is leading polls of voters' intentions for the first round of the French election on April 23.

Shunned by many European leaders over her party's stance on immigration and anti-EU message, Le Pen's meeting with President Michel Aoun in Beirut is designed to add to her international credibility.

Le Pen will also meet Prime Minister Saad Hariri, an opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Le Pen has criticised the EU's calls for Assad to stand down after nearly seven years of war.

France had mandate power over Lebanon and neighbouring Syria during the first half of last century, and ties between the countries have remained close.

Rival presidential hopeful and former economy minister Emmanuel Macronvisited Beirut on January 24, where he met both Aoun and Hariri.

While he did not call for an alliance with Assad, Macron advocated a”balanced policy” towards the regime and the myriad rebels fighting it.

Right-wing candidate Francois Fillon, dogged by revelations his wife was paid for years with public funds for a suspected fake job as a parliamentary aide, cancelled a visit this month to Lebanon and Iraq.

Le Pen has met few foreign leaders since taking control of the National Front in 2011: She met no high-ranking Canadian politicians in a visit to Quebec last year, and Chancellor Angela Merkel refused to meet with her during a gathering of eurosceptic and far-right leaders in Germany last month.

And Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told AFP last week that “a victory of the populists would be the end of Europe”, a clear reference to Le Pen's call for a referendum on France's EU membership.

But although this would be Le Pen's first official visit with a head of state, a source in her party said it was not the first time she had met a foreign leader, while not elaborating further as to who she might previously have seen less formally.


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.