France’s cash-strapped far right turns to Russian lender
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The French far right’s cosiness with Vladimir Putin’s Russia is back in the spotlight as Marine Le Pen’s party confirms it borrowed nine million euros from a Russian lender, saying “no one else will give us a cent”.
The party treasurer Wallerand de Saint-Just told France Info radio a deal was signed with the Russian lender in September.
Saint-Just said the party had received a first installment of two million euros.
“We have been looking for loans for some time, to fund our election campaigns. But our bank, like most French and European lenders, categorically refuses to give the FN and FN candidates the slightest cent,” he said.
Saint-Just has expressed similar concerns in the past, saying banks were reluctant to lend money to political parties since former president Nicolas Sarkozy was fined 500,000 euros for undisclosed expenses in his failed 2012 presidential bid.
Last November, the FN’s longtime bank Société Générale said it would no longer lend money to its client.
The surging anti-immigration party, which has made a breakthrough in the French parliament and came first in European elections in May, has long struggled to raise the cash needed to match its political ambitions.
Saint-Just said the Russian loan would cover part of the FN's campaigning expenses ahead of national elections in 2017, estimating the party's needs at "30 to 40 million euros".
Some of the eurosceptic party's fund-raising efforts have raised eyebrows in France.
Investigators are currently probing suspicious loans paid to FN candidates by affiliated group “Jeanne”, set up by party leader Marine Le Pen and named after French heroine Joan of Arc.
News of the Russian loan comes at a critical time in relations between Russia and the EU, which have been soured by the Ukrainian crisis.
Brussels has slapped sanctions on five Russian lenders and more than 100 businessmen and politicians, including Russian nationalist lawmaker Alexander Mikhailovich Babakov, who allegedly acted as go-between in the FN’s loan deal.
FN veteran Christian Bouchet told Mediapart there was nothing wrong with reaching out to Russian banks.
“It’s certainly no worse than borrowing from [Muammar] Gaddafi,” he said, in a thinly veiled reference to ongoing investigations into claims Sarkozy received funding from the late Libyan leader for his 2007 presidential campaign.
Pointing to Le Pen’s well-known penchant for Moscow, Mediapart said the FN’s Russian funding raised concerns about “possible foreign interference in French politics”.
The far right leader has made multiple trips to Moscow since taking over from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2011.
She has made no secret of her respect for President Vladimir Putin, repeatedly slamming EU leaders for stoking a “new Cold War” with Russia.
She has been particularly critical of French President François Hollande’s decision to suspend delivery of two Mistral-class warships to Moscow, accusing the government of bowing to pressure from the US.
Le Pen's party has described Putin as a "patriot" and a defender of traditional European values, hailing his moves to crack down on LGBT "propaganda".
Last month, a report by the Nouvel Observateur claimed FN leaders had made frequent contact with the Russian ambassador in Paris, Alexander Orlov.
"The Kremlin is now betting on the National Front," wrote the French weekly. "It deems the party capable of seizing power in France and changing the course of European history in Moscow's favour."
Watch our special report: France's National Front in the spotlight