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France's far-right patriarch refused questioning in EU fraud case

© AFP/File | Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded France's National Front but has since been excluded from it, now sits as an independent in the European Parliament

PARIS (AFP) - 

Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of France's far-right National Front party, refused to submit to police questioning last month as part of an EU funding inquiry, claiming immunity as a European Parliament lawmaker, his adviser said Sunday.

Le Pen is one of several party MEPs suspected of using European Parliament funds provided for assistants to pay more than 20 France-based party staff.

If convicted, the party could be ordered to repay seven million euros ($8.2 million), and the judges pre-emptively seized the subsidies.

An EU tribunal has already determined that Le Pen must reimburse 320,000 euros.

But when police from France's anti-corruption squad tried to question him last month at his office just outside Paris, he claimed MEP immunity and ordered them to leave.

"He was prepared to receive them, but they had such arrogant attitudes which Jean-Marie Le Pen refused to accept," his adviser Lorrain de Saint Affrique told AFP, confirming a report in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper.

Le Pen, 90, sits as an independent after being thrown out of his party by his daughter Marine Le Pen in 2015 for saying the Nazi gas chambers were a mere "detail" of history.

He has also often made disparaging statements against Muslims and Roma which have earned him a string of hate speech convictions.

His daughter has renamed the party the National Rally in an effort to shed its xenophobic and anti-Semitic image.

The EU funding inquiry has led French judges to withhold two million euros of public subsidies for the party, a move which Marine Le Pen has denounced as a "death sentence".

Without the funds, she warns the party will be bankrupt by September.

© 2018 AFP