Paris prosecutors are studying a report by the European Union’s anti-fraud agency accusing far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen and other members of her nationalist party of misusing public funds while serving in the European Parliament.
French investigative news website Mediapart revealed the report just days before Le Pen faced incumbent President Emmanuel Macron in Sunday’s run-off election that could determine the future direction of Europe. Le Pen’s National Rally seeks to reduce the powers of the European Union.
Le Pen denied any wrongdoing, dismissing the report as a “vicious game by the European Union a few days before the second round” of the elections. Speaking Monday at the campaign stop in Normandy, she said, “I’m used to this, and I think the French would never fall for it.”
A similar investigation into fraud in the European Union was exposed ahead of the 2017 French presidential election, which Le Pen lost to Macron. French investigators handed over initial charges to Le Pen On this issue, which is still ongoing.
Macron, a pro-EU centrist, leads Le Pen in opinion polls ahead of Sunday’s votealthough the race is tighter than it was when they faced off in 2017.
The European Union’s anti-fraud agency Olaf submitted its latest report last month to the Paris Public Prosecutor’s Office, which is “in the course of its analysis,” the Public Prosecutor’s Office said on Monday. An official investigation has not yet been opened, and no further details have been released.
According to Mediapart, an OLAF report found that Le Pen, her controversial father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen and other party members who served in the European Parliament used €617,000 of public money for “fictitious” causes, notably for the benefit of companies close to the party. The Fraud Office is reportedly seeking compensation for potential fraud and embezzlement charges.
Olaf accused party members of “gross violations” and said the “inappropriate behavior” of members of the National Rally – formerly called the National Front – “endangered the reputation of the union’s institutions”, according to Mediapart.
Olaf did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday, a holiday in Belgium and several European countries.
This is not the first time that Le Pen has been accused of misusing EU funds. Among the many legal matters involving her party, Le Pen was handed preliminary charges in 2018 based on a separate investigation by the Counter-Terrorism Office, accusing members of her party of using European Parliament payroll aides for the party’s political activity. Other French political parties faced similar accusations.
Le Pen, who served in the European Parliament from 2004-2017, smiled for selfies as she met hundreds of voters Monday in the Normandy town of Saint-Pierre-en-Hug. A small group of Macron supporters came with posters urging voters to prevent the far right from running France.
She and Macron face a critical debate on Wednesday.
Jeremias Gonzalez contributed from Saint-Pierre-en-Auge.
Follow AP’s coverage of the French election at https://apnews.com/hub/french-election-2022