The European Parliament (EP) has accused French far-right candidate Marine Le Pen of misappropriating EU funds allocated for the payment of salaries for parliamentary assistants, using them for party work outside the framework of the EP. The putative fraud is now assumed to have cost the European Parliament nearly five million euros ($5.5 million), while former estimates ran at 1.9 million euros ($ 2.0 million euros, reports said.
Marine Le Pen's far right party National Front (FN) is said to have used EU funds in order to pay party work in France between 2012 and 2017, legal sources claim. A French lawyer working for the EU parliament named Patrick Maisonneuve confirmed to AFP that the sum in question amounted to 4,978,122 euros, which is twice the initial estimate.
The European Parliament believes that 17 FN representatives in the European Parliament, including Le Pen, used the money to pay assistants working on a national or regional level. In part, the money is said to have been spent upon fictitious employment.
The French satirical journal Le Canard Enchaîné had already revealed in its April 5 issue that an FN member working for a regional council of Nord-Pas de Calais in Lille, northern France, was suspected to have been paid out of EU funds while at the same time being active as elected councilor in the Provence region. Investigations reportedly concentrated on David Rachline, the campaign director for party leader Le Pen and mayor of Fréjus, a community in southeastern France.
Le Pen denies the allegations, portraying them as part of a political plot meant to harm her party in the race for the French parliamentary elections. Rachline spoke along the same lines, stating that the investigations bore the hallmark of a "political attack", targeting the presidential candidate and her campaign director.
"It's a good pretext to legally wiretap the campaign director of one of the opposition's leading figures", he told Reuters.
The allegations have now triggered legal investigations in France. Le Pen's chief of staff and another party official have been charged with concealment, and a French prosecutor is investigating the activities of the far-right party on the afore-mentioned regional council in northern France, according to a statement made on Tuesday by a judicial source.
However, the FN presidential candidate is not the only one to face allegations of corruption and fraud. In January, Le Canard Enchaîné had disclosed that conservative candidate Francois Fillon had paid his wife and two children for jobs they did not properly carry out.
Le Pen reached the second round of the French election past Sunday and now faces centrist candidate Emanuel Macron.