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French far-right candidate Le Pen faces new ‘fake job’ probe

Franck Pennant, AFP | French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen (R) and campaign spokesman David Rachline in Frejus, France, on September 17, 2016

A French prosecutor is investigating the activities of the far-right National Front on a regional council in northern France, a judicial source said on Tuesday after a newspaper reported a top party official was suspected of being paid for fake work.

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The Canard Enchainé satirical newspaper said a preliminary investigation by the prosecutor in Lille focused on David Rachline, campaign director for party leader Marine Le Pen, a leading candidate in the presidential election.

Rachline, 29, a rising star in Le Pen’s anti-immigration and anti-euro party, had been on the payroll of the Lille-based regional council while at the same time being an elected councillor in a region in Provence, about 1,000 km (625 miles) to the south, it said.

On Wednesday, Rachline acknowledged he had been paid by the Nord-Pas-de-Calais regional council over a three-month period "seven years ago", while claiming the Canard Enchainé's report was politically motivated.

“This is the perfect pretext to legally wiretap the campaign director of the leader of the opposition,” Rachline told LCP television, questioning the timing of the allegations, with just over two weeks to go before the first round of France's presidential election.

According to the Canard Enchainé, investigators are trying to determine whether Rachline's employment and those of two other FN councillors were used to finance Le Pen's presidential bid in 2012.

Contacted by Reuters on Wednesday, the prosecutor's office confirmed the investigation had begun in January 2016.

Campaign soured by multiple 'fake job' scandals

The fake job allegation involving the National Front is the latest such scandal to beset candidates in the two-stage election due to take place on April 23 and May 7.

It came just hours ahead of a televised debate by all 11 presidential rivals on Tuesday night.

Conservative candidate Francois Fillon slumped from being front-runner to trailing in third place, according to opinion polls, after the Canard Enchainé reported in January that he paid his wife and two children hundreds of thousands of euros in tax-payers’ money for work they did not properly carry out.

Fillon, a 63-year-old former prime minister, and his wife are now under formal investigation for fraud. Fillon has denied any wrongdoing and has said he will not allow the scandal to affect his drive for the presidency.

In a separate action involving the National Front, French judicial police in February questioned her bodyguard and chief of staff in relation to a probe into alleged misuse of EU funds to pat parliamentary assistants.

Le Pen, like Fillon, has denied any wrongdoing.

Opinion polls see Le Pen possibly coming first in the first round of the election in April but losing by a sizeable margin to independent centrist Emmanuel Macron in the May runoff.

(REUTERS)

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