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French court releases €1 million in subsidies seized from Le Pen party

Lucas Barioulet, AFP | France's far-right leader Marine Le Pen addresses supporters in Mantes-la-Ville on September 23, 2018.

France's far-right National Rally on Wednesday won back half of the two million euros in public subsidies that had been withheld as part of an EU funding probe, in a boost for beleaguered party leader Marine Le Pen.

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The Paris court of appeal ruled that the judges investigating the party formerly known as the National Front had been within their rights to seize the subsidies but reduced the amount to one million euros.

Le Pen reacted furiously to the June 28 cash freeze, calling it a "death sentence" for her cash-strapped party which has been struggling to rebound from her defeat by Emmanuel Macron in last year's presidential election.

Her lawyer Rodolphe Bosselut hailed the partial restoration of the RN's funding on Wednesday as a "first victory" and said he was considering another appeal to recover the rest of the money.

The judges had seized the subsidies as part of an investigation into claims that RN members of the European Parliament defrauded the EU of millions of euros in funding between 2009 and 2017.

Le Pen and 12 other people, as well as the party itself, are specifically accused of using funds available to members of the European Parliament towards parliamentary assistants to pay for France-based staff instead.

They deny the charges.

In confiscating the party's French subsidies, the judges said they wanted to ensure it could pay up if ordered by a court to repay 7 million euros to the European Parliament.

Such subsidies are common in European countries, which see them as a way of ensuring a level playing field for political parties while limiting the risks of corruption or illegal funding.

Le Pen had presented the seizure of the funds as a politically-motivated attempt to ruin her party and said that the political movement would be insolvent by September unless the decision was annulled.

In July, she launched an appeal for donations to help the National Rally pay salaries.

Le Pen's party has had a series of financial setbacks in recent years, with Le Pen claiming in November that it was the target of a "banking fatwa" after HSBC and Societe Generale closed her personal and party accounts.

In 2014, the then National Front took a nine-million-euro loan from a Russian bank, claiming it was unable to borrow in France.

(AFP)

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