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French leftist leader Mélenchon questioned over EU 'fake jobs' claims

Lionel Bonaventure, AFP | The leader of the French leftist party La France Insoumise (LFI) and member of parliament Jean-Luc Mélenchon leaves after a hearing at the anti-corruption police office in Nanterre, on the outskirts of Paris, on October 18, 2018.

French police on Thursday questioned leftist leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon for five hours in connection with two funding probes after raids on his home and party headquarters this week which he loudly protested.

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The firebrand leader of La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party, who has led opposition to President Emmanuel Macron's economic reforms, was summoned to the headquarters of the anti-corruption bureau in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.

The police are investigating allegations that he used EU funds for European Parliament assistants to pay staff for work carried out in France. They are also probing allegations of irregularities in his 2017 presidential campaign accounts.

The 67-year-old MP, who won 20 percent of the vote in the first round of last year's presidential election, has denied any wrongdoing and claimed he is the victim of a political witch hunt.

'Glottophobia' controversy

He reacted furiously to the raids on his home and party headquarters on Tuesday, shouting at police officers, shoving a prosecutor and attempting to force open the door of his party's offices while the search was ongoing.

The former Socialist minister has been strongly criticised over his outburst, with members of Macron's government and centre-right Republicans accusing him of seeking to intimidate public servants and acting as if he were above the law.

Mélenchon, who is famous for his tirades against globalisation, the EU and elites, admitted later that things "got heated" but said he had "no regrets".

On Wednesday, he was also caught on camera appearing to mock  a journalist with a southern accent who asked him a question at the National Assembly.

"Can someone ask me a question in French? And (make it) a bit more understandable...," Mélenchon said, addressing a group of reporters in the video clip widely circulated on social media.

In response, a French MP on Thursday announced the tabling of a bill to outlaw regional linguistic discrimination, "glottophobia".

"Do we speak French any the less with an accent. Must one suffer humiliation if one doesn't speak standard French? Because our accents are our identity, I am tabling a bill to recognise glottophobia as a source of discrimination," tweeted Laetitia Avia, a lawmaker in Macron's La République En Marche party.

A 'political manouevre'

Mélenchon said his questioning was a "political manouevre" of Macron, adding: "Mr Macron... the move has failed completely."

But Macron, who is in Brussels, defended the "independence" of the judicial system, adding: "We have a constitution and it is clear... There are no exceptions, even if it doesn't please some people."

And former French president François Hollande said Mélenchon was a "victim of himself" and his own anger, not of the judicial system.

After Tuesday's events, the Paris prosecutor's office opened an investigation against Mélenchon and other party officials over alleged "threats and acts of intimidation against judicial authorities" and "violence against people carrying out public duties".

Mélenchon's party has filed a counter-complaint for police violence. Several police unions have denounced Mélenchon's behaviour as "unacceptable."

Thursday's questioning related to two investigations into his party's spending.

Mélenchon is one of several French politicians, including far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who are accused of using funds available to European Parliament members for their Brussels-based assistants instead on political staff working in France.

Mélenchon, who was a member of the European Parliament from 2009 to 2017, has denied the fake job allegations, which were made by a member of the National Rally.

He was also questioned Thursday over his 2017 campaign spending, specifically over invoices presented by two associations run by party loyalists.

Mélenchon, like Le Pen, has claimed that the investigations are an attempt to silence him.

"France Unbowed is not treated like everyone else," he said Thursday, accusing the state of "trying to scare us".

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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