French police have raided the headquarters of the country’s far-right Front National (FN) Party, led by frontrunner presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, as part of a probe into her alleged misuse of EU funds.
The party said in a statement the FN Party’s headquarters near Paris was searched by French investigators, who are probing the “fake jobs” allegations by European Union officials in Brussels against Le Pen.
Brussels claims Le Pen, also a member of the European Parliament (MEP), used EU funds to pay a total of €340,000 to her bodyguard and a Paris-based assistant, claiming that they were EU parliamentary assistants.
This is while, under EU rules, a person needs to be physically working in one of the European parliament’s three offices in Brussels, Strasbourg or Luxembourg and reside near that workplace to qualify as an EP assistant.
The European anti-fraud office (Olaf) insists that 48-year-old Le Pen, who remains a frontrunner in France’s presidential campaign, must reimburse the misused funds despite her refusal to do so.
The French politician dismisses the official investigation as a bid to undermine her lead in the polls.
“I formally contest this unilateral and illegal decision taken by political opponents ... without proof and without waiting for a judgment from the court action I have started,” Le Pen said in an interview with Reuters.
French investigators launched a preliminary inquiry into fraud by Le Pen’s party in December following Olaf’s claims. Monday’s raids on the FN offices were part of their search for evidence.
An FN statement following the police search of its headquarters said Monday’s raids were an attempt to “disturb the smooth running of the presidential campaign and to sink Marine Le Pen at the moment her campaign is making strides with voting intentions.”
Her refusal to repay the misused funds by the end of January deadline would mean that her MEP pay will be halved to about €3,000 effective this month and most of her allowances and expenses would be frozen. In total, she is expected to lose nearly €7,000 a month.
Three other FN members of the European parliament, including Le Pen’s father and party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, have been ordered by the European court to reimburse about €600,000 of allegedly misused funds.
Le Pen is France’s second presidential candidate under investigation in “fake” jobs scandals.
Center right contender Francois Fillon is also facing allegations over claims that he paid his British wife nearly €830,000 as a parliamentary assistant for more than a decade, and also paid his two eldest children a total of €84,000 as assistants while he was a senator.
The raids on FN offices came as Le Pen, who is running on and anti-immigration and anti-European platform, was trying to raise her international profile with a two-day visit to Lebanon.