French far-right leader and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen campaigns, Monday, April 18, 2022 in Saint-Pierre-en-Auge, Normandy.
The European Union’s fraud agency has placed French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen and other members of her far-right, nationalist party under investigation for misusing public funds while serving in the European Parliament.
This comes just days before the final round of the presidential election, in which Le Pen is hoping to unseat incumbent Emmanuel Macron in a close race.
Rodolphe Bosselut, lawyer for Le Pen’s party National Rally, said she denies any wrongdoing, and questioned the politically sensitive timing of the accusations.
Le Pen has called for a referendum on France’s membership of the EU in the past, and vocally criticised the bloc on numerous occasions.
The report, which was prepared by the EU fraud agency OLAF and later passed on to the Paris prosecutor’s office, was disclosed by the French investigative news site Mediapart.
Le Pen, her father Jean-Marie Le Pen and other members of their party who served in the European Parliament are accused of using €617,000 of public money for “fictitious” reasons, notably for the benefit of companies close to National Rally.
Members of the party were accused of “grave violations” and “inappropriate behaviour” by OLAF, which is seeking reimbursement, besides potential fraud and embezzlement charges.
The reputation of the EU’s institutions had also been “imperilled” by their conduct, alleged OLAF.
An investigation into OLAF’s report is yet to be opened in France and no further details have been released, although the Paris prosecutor’s office said it was “in the course of analysing” the claims.
This is not the first time Le Pen and her party have been accused of misusing EU funds.
Le Pen was handed preliminary charges in 2018 based on a separate OLAF investigation accusing National Rally members of using aides on the European Parliament’s payroll for the party’s political activity.
The legal fallout has dogged her party since then.
Le Pen, who served in the European Parliament between 2004 to 2017, will face Macron in a crucial debate on Wednesday ahead of Sunday’s election.
Macron, a pro-EU, centrist candidate, is currently leading the polls.