France’s National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who is also an MEP and a frontrunner in the French presidential election in April-May, has defied a deadline set by EU authorities for her to repay funds they claim she has misspent.
The EU Parliament has sought to recover the funds after accusing two of Le Pen’s parliamentary assistants of in fact working for her National Front party back home.
“I will not submit to the persecution, a unilateral decision taken by political opponents […] without proof and without waiting for a judgement from the court action I have started,” she told Reuters news agency yesterday (31 January).
The parliament says that in 2011-12 she paid party staff with the funds, which according to rules should only go to lawmakers’ assistants working within the legislature.
Reportedly, the money went to Catherine Griset, a close friend of Ms Le Pen, as well as to her cabinet director.
The funds were conditional on Griset spending most of her working time in Brussels or Strasbourg and doing parliamentary work.
However, the parliament says most of her time was instead spent working in the National Front’s headquarters in Paris.
Le Pen is to be docked €7,000 a month from her EU parliamentary earnings, as of today (1 February). It means her monthly parliamentary income will be reduced to €3,000.
French prosecutors opened an investigation on 15 December after carrying out a preliminary inquiry launched in March 2015 at the request of the Parliament, which had raised suspicions over payments to a total of 20 assistants working for National Front MEPs.
In the past five other National Front European lawmakers including Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, have faced salary cuts because of misused money that was not reimbursed.
Several MEPs from other political groupings have also been investigated for expenses that were not in line with EU rules. Most have agreed to reimburse misspent money.
Apart from salaries for their assistants, MEPs are entitled to a so-called “parliamentary assistance allowance” of €21,209 per month. Those funds should not be spent on financing campaigning or their political parties back home, according to Parliament rules.
Many MEPs use EU funds to run offices in their countries and it is unclear to what extent this is in line with rules that prohibit using such funding from campaigning back home.