EU Parliament seeks to recover funds from French far-right leader Le Pen
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Marine Le Pen on Tuesday must repay €298,000 to the European Parliament or see her MEP salary slashed in half, following allegations the French far-right leader misused funds.
EU authorities are seeking to recover a total of €340,000 from the far-right leader, who is a lawmaker in the European Parliament but also a leading presidential candidate in France’s upcoming presidential election.
The EU Parliament is seeking to recover the funds after accusing two of Le Pen’s parliamentary assistants of in fact working for her National Front party back home.
A first letter sent to Le Pen demands she repay the sum of €298,497.87 by January 31, for salaries paid to Catherine Griset, who worked as a parliamentary assistant from December 2010 to February 2016.
In a report last year, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) made light of the fact that while Griset’s contract stipulates her workplace as the EU Parliament’s headquarters in Brussels, she was “unable to prove that she continually resided in Belgium” nor that she was “regularly present at her place of work”.
OLAF also pointed out that Griset held a “recognised position” at the National Front’s headquarters in the suburbs of Paris during her time as a parliamentary assistant.
A second letter sent to Le Pen seeks to recover an additional €41,554 by February 28, for wages paid to her bodyguard Thierry Légier.
If she fails to repay the European body, Le Pen could see her MEP salary cut by 50 percent, according to several sources cited by French newspapers.
Le Pen has denied any wrongdoing, on Saturday telling France’s TF1 television network she “formally challenged” the EU reimbursement procedure launched against her.
In October her lawyer denounced the order of repayment as a “political manoeuvre” to “undercut Marine Le Pen’s work at the European Parliament”.
“How can the work of an MEP and her activities be separated from those of the president of a major political party?” he asked. Le Pen is party chief of the National Front, and hopes to win France’s presidential poll this spring as the anti-EU party’s candidate.
The repayment order comes at a bad time for Le Pen, who has admitted failure in securing loans from French banks in order to run her presidential campaign.
It also comes amid a growing scandal surrounding conservative presidential nominee François Fillon and his wife Penelope. It is suspected she was paid about €500,000 for French parliamentary assistance work she never performed.