- EU Parliament believes the party of French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has defrauded it almost EUR 5 million, according to French police sources.
- Fraud was committed as assistants to Le Pen’s members of the EU Parliament did party work in France although they were paid by the European Parliament.
- EU Parliament has begun a procedure to lift Le Pen’s immunity as an EP member over the investigation.
- He chief of staff has already been charged over the affair.
- In another controversy, a man who was supposed to substitute for Le Pen as the head of party refused to do so over allegations he had made disparaging comments about the Holocaust and Nazi death chambers.
The EU Parliament believes a fake jobs scandal involving French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s National Front party has cost the institution nearly EUR 5 million (USD 5.5 million), reports say citing police sources in France.
The fake jobs scandal involving Marine Le Pen started with an expenses inquiry in which the European Parliament first accused Le Pen’s far-right National Front party of defrauding it to the tune of some EUR 340,000 (USD 360,000).
Later the cost was estimated at EUR 1.9 million but the new estimate cited by police sources is more than twice as high.
The Parliament suspects the money went to 20 National Front assistants who were not really working for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), but were engaged in National Front party work in France.
Last month French investigators raided the party’s headquarters outside Paris in order to find out if the European Parliament funding for MEP assistance had been abused with fake jobs.
On March 10, Le Pen refused to answer their questions citing her immunity from prosecution as a MEP, leading the French prosecutors to ask the EU Parliament earlier this month to lift her immunity.
The far-right National Front, whose main goal is to get France out of the EU, and even dissolve the Union, has the largest French group in the European Parliament consisting of 24 MEPs.
Earlier this year, the EU Parliament lifted Le Pen’s MEP immunity on another count dating to 2015 when she shared graphic pictures of Islamic State atrocities on Twitter. Because of that, she had been placed under investigation for “dissemination of violent images”.
Another scandal with fake jobs, “Penelopegate“, already cost former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon his chances to be elected President of France, after revelations that his wife made close to a million euro from state salaries as his parliamentary aide while possibly failing to do any actual work. Fillon remained only third in the first round of the French presidential elections on April 23.
Far-right Le Pen is going to battle centrist Emmanuel Macron for the French Presidency in the runoff on May 7.
The cost of the EU Parliament fake jobs scandal involving French , which involves the employment of assistants and a bodyguard, has risen to EUR 4,978,122 after “new information” was discovered, a French police source told AFP on Thursday.
The European Parliament believes that after 2012, Le Pen’s National Front used funds allotted for MEP assistants to pay Le Pen’s personal assistant Catherine Griset and her bodyguard Thierry Legier, among others, for party work in France.
On April 26, the European Parliament began a procedure to lift Le Pen’s immunity over the fake jobs scandal.
“It’s a totally normal procedure, I’m not surprised,” she told Franceinfo radio regarding the French request that the EU Parliament lift her immunity.
After investigators probing the fake jobs scandal raided the National Front headquarters last month, Le Pen’s chief of staff Catherine Griset was questioned at length and was charged with concealment.
Charles Hourcade, a former assistant to French National Front MEP Marie-Christine Boutonnet, who once worked as a graphic designer at the party headquarters, was also charged over the affair.
Le Pen’s bodyguard Thierry Legier was also questioned by investigators but was not charged.
Haunted by Holocaust Denial
In another controversial development around Marine Le Pen’s presidential bid and her far-right party, the man who was supposed to replace temporarily as party leader decided to step aside over allegations that he made questionable comments about Nazi death chambers and the Holocaust.
Earlier this week, in what has been described as a “tactical maneuver”, Le Pen decided to temporarily quit her position as the leader of the National Front in order to attract more voters ahead of the second round of the French presidential elections.
However, Jean-Francois Jalkh, a vice-president of the party who joined in 1974, on Friday refused to take the job, France24 reported.
His refusal was due to allegations, which he firmly denies, that in a 2000 interview, he doubted the Nazis’ use of Zyklon B cyanide gas to murder Jews and other victims in the death camps.
“I consider it technically impossible – I repeat, impossible – to use it… in mass murder. Why? Because you have to wait several days before you can decontaminate a place where Zyklon B was used,” Le Monde quoted him as saying.
When Le Monde asked him about the remark he called it “utter rubbish” and said he had “no recollection of that [interview]”, BBC News reported.
A year ago, Marine Le Pen’s father and National Front founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, now 88, was fined EUR 30,000 (USD 32,500) for calling the Nazi gas chambers a “detail” of World War II.
He was convicted of contesting crimes against humanity. He got the same conviction in 2012 for calling the Nazi occupation of France “not particularly inhumane”.
Marine Le Pen, his daughter, was strongly criticized when on April 9 she suggested France was not responsible for a 1942 wartime roundup of 13,000 Jews, who were sent from France to Nazi death camps.
Le Pen has worked hard to detoxify the party, tainted by racism and anti-Semitism in the past. In 2015, she expelled her father because of his comments that the Nazi gas chambers were a “detail” of history.