EU anti-fraud body accuses Le Pen of embezzlement
The European anti-fraud body has found French Presidential candidate and far-right leader Marine Le Pen guilty of committing embezzlement and using public funds for personal gains.
The European Union's anti-fraud body, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) had accused far-right French presidential candidate and party leader Marine Le Pen and associates of embezzling some 600,000 euros during their time as members of the European parliament, French website Mediapart said Saturday, citing a report on the matter.
The allegations come just over a week before Le Pen goes against incumbent President Emmanuel Macron for the presidential post in the second round of the presidential elections.
Incumbent French President Emmanuel Macron and his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen led the polls during the first round of the French presidential elections on Sunday, with a slight lead for Macron, who won 28.1-29.7%, around 5% more than Le Pen's 23.3-24.7%.
The top two candidates will face each other in the second round set for April 24, projections by polling firms for French television channels said based on a sample of votes.
Her lawyer dismissed the accusations, raising suspicions over the "timing" of the report, as it comes just a week before a pivotal point in Le Pen's political career.
Mediapart published extracts from the new report by OLAF into expenses that political groups can make as part of their mandate as MEPs.
The agency is accusing Le Pen and others of having used the funds for national political purposes, personal expenses, or for services that would benefit commercial companies close to her National Rally party and the far-right parliamentary group, Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF).
Le Pen's so-called associates are three former MEPs, including her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, her ex-partner Louis Aliot, and former far-right MEP Bruno Gollnisch.
According to OLAF, Le Pen and Co. had embezzled some 600,000 euros ($650,000), which it recommended they repay. Le Pen alone had personally embezzled some 137,000 euros ($150,000) worth of public funds during her membership in parliament between 2004 and 2017.
The investigation by OLAF was opened in 2016, Le Pen's lawyer, Rodolphe Bosselut, said, and she was questioned in writing by post in March 2021.
Bosselut expressed "dismay" by the way OLAF is acting, insisting that part of the report related to "old facts more than ten years old."
The Paris public prosecutor's office confirmed to AFP it had received the report on March 11, and it is currently assessing it.
Since June 2017, Le Pen has been under investigation over suspicion that she had given party members fake jobs as assistants at the European Parliament. She is facing accusations of "embezzling public funds" and "complicity" in this crime.
What is prominent about this report is that it came after President Macron had been put on blast by his opponents in France following a report from the French Senate that questioned the government's usage of private consultants and accused the American firm of tax dodging.
Macron's rivals were using this to undermine his bid at reelection, and it followed him to his campaign stops just days before the first round of the elections.
The debacle had been dubbed "The McKinsey Affair", named after a US firm hired to advise Paris on its Covid-19 vaccination campaign and other policies.
The French Senate, controlled by Macron's opposition, had published a report last month on the use of private consulting firms, and it found that Paris' spending on such contracts had increased two-fold over the past three years, despite questionable results. The Senate also put the issue of conflict of interest on the table.