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France: EU fraud agency investigating candidate Le Pen

Yoopya with Associated Press

Paris prosecutors are studying a report by the European Union’s fraud agency accusing French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen and other members of her nationalist party of misusing public funds while serving in the European Parliament.

Marine Le Pen
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen smiles as she arrives for a campaign stop Monday, April 18, 2022 in Saint-Pierre-en-Auge, Normandy. French President Emmanuel Macron is facing off against far-right challenger Marine Le Pen in France’s April 24 presidential runoff. (AP Photo/Jeremias Gonzalez)

The report was disclosed by French investigative news site Mediapart days before Le Pen faces incumbent Emmanuel Macron in a runoff election Sunday that could determine Europe’s future direction. Le Pen’s party National Rally seeks to diminish the EU’s powers.

Party lawyer Rodolphe Bosselut said she denies wrongdoing, and questioned the timing of the Mediapart publication, just before the presidential runoff.

Macron, a pro-EU centrist, leads Le Pen in polls ahead of Sunday’s vote, though the race is tighter than when they faced off in 2017.

EU fraud agency OLAF submitted its report last month to the Paris prosecutor’s office, which is in the course of analyzing it, the prosecutor’s office said Monday. No formal investigation has yet been opened, and no further details were released.

According to Mediapart, the OLAF report found that Le Pen, her firebrand father and party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen and other party members who served in the European Parliament used 617,000 euros of public money for fictitious reasons, notably for the benefit of companies close to the party. The fraud office is reportedly seeking reimbursement of the funds and potential fraud and embezzlement charges.

OLAF accused party members of grave violations and said the inappropriate behavior of members of National Rally — formerly called the National Front — imperiled the reputation of the Union’s institutions, according to Mediapart.

OLAF didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Monday, a holiday in Belgium and several European countries.

It’s not the first time Le Pen and her party were accused of misusing EU funds. Among several legal affairs that have dogged her party, Le Pen was handed preliminary charges in 2018 based on a separate investigation by OLAF accusing National Rally members of using aides on the European Parliament’s payroll for the party’s political activity.

Le Pen, who served in the European Parliament from 2004-2017, met with supporters Monday in the Normandy town of Saint-Pierre-en-Auge. She and Macron face a crucial debate on Wednesday.

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France: EU fraud agency investigating candidate Le Pen