Allies of National Front’s Marine Le Pen named in Panama Papers scandal
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Two members of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen’s entourage moved hundreds of thousands of euros by way of offshore companies in recent years, according to France's daily Le Monde, in the latest revelations linked to the Panama Papers leak.
A businessman and an accountant with close links to Le Pen's National Front party designed a “sophisticated offshore system” to transfer up to €275,000 out of France between 2013 and 2014, Le Monde reported on Tuesday.
Frédéric Chatillon, a longtime Le Pen friend and the head of the company that handled communications for her 2012 presidential bid, bought an offshore company called Time Dragon in May 2012.
Based in Hong Kong, Time Dragon’s parent company is in the British Virgin Islands and overseen by the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, leaked documents showed.
Nicolas Crochet, an accounting expert who wrote Le Pen’s economic manifesto for the 2012 campaign, then suggested that his brother’s offshore company issue a fake invoice in 2013 for the creation of her campaign’s website, according to the leading French daily.
The aim was "to get money out of France, through shell companies and false invoices, to evade French anti-money-laundering authorities", Le Monde said.
The two men were already under investigation for alleged money laundering in connection with Le Pen’s offshoot party “Jeanne”. As head of the firm Riwal, Chatillon has been indicted on charges of “forgery and fraud against the state”.
Crochet is suspected of the “illegal financing of an electoral campaign”, among other charges.
Le Monde also published excerpts from emails between Chatillon and intermediaries of the offshore operations that “leave no doubt about the methods of operation and the careful attention in circumventing rules”, the paper said.
In an email addressed to a Hong Kong-based lawyer and dated December 24, 2012, Chatillon writes:
“I am writing to you again in relation to the transfer of funds to HK (Hong Kong). After careful consideration, the simplest solution is that company in HK should issue an invoice to one of my French companies for Web services that were performed during the legislative [elections] campaign … All of this is of course confidential.”
Chatillon told Le Monde late on Monday that the transfer of funds to a Hong Kong-based company was "perfectly legal" and reflected his and his business partners’ interest in “investing in Asia” at the time.
National Front Vice President Florian Philippot on Tuesday flatly rejected allegations the far-right party was involved in a complex system to hide cash in offshore accounts.
“All of that is perfectly legal,” Philippot told the I-télé cable news channel. “Anyway, Mr. Chatillon has no responsibilities at the National Front.”
“Any attempt to link these allegations to the National Front or to Marine Le Pen will simply amount to defamation,” Philippot added.
Le Monde is one of 110 media organisations that have had access to millions of leaked documents from Mossack Fonseca, which is accused of managing shady offshore dealings for political elites from around the world.