The founder of the French National Front is accused of channelling funds to Switzerland through a trust held in the name of a European Parliament assistant. EURACTIV France reports.
Elected to the European Parliament 11 years ago, Jean-Marie Le Pen is no stranger to legal controversy. Already sentenced close to a dozen times for using racist and slanderous language, he is now under investigation for concealing money.
According to Mediapart, Le Pen is accused of hiding a Swiss bank account containing €2.2 million from the French High Authority for Transparency in Public Life (HATVP).
The beneficiary of the trust that held the account was an assistant of the National Front in the European Parliament, Gérald Gérin.
Parliamentary assistant at the heart of the affair
The account in question was opened by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s former parliamentary assistant, who now works for the National Front MEP Marie-Christine Arnautu. Gérald Gérin also holds another role within the National Front’s European delegation: that of assistant to the cabinet of the party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, with whom he is visibly very close.
The Swiss bank account belonged to a trust, a legal structure permitting the account holder to remain anonymous. According to Mediapart, the trust, named Balerton Marketing Limited, moved the account from HSBC to the private Swiss bank Compagnie bancaire Helvétique the day before the European elections, in May 2014.
Gérald Gérin has previously worked as Jean-Marie Le Pen’s butler, then as treasurer of the extreme right party’s funding organisation Cotelec.
Series of trials
The French authorities first opened a preliminary investigation into Jean-Marie Le Pen’s finances in 2013. The MEP, who filled in his HATVP financial declaration with visible haste, only declared his income from the European Parliament and the General Council of the Île-de-France region.
His declaration of interests to the European Parliament is even less detailed, and is not signed.
The National Front’s former leader is not the only member of the French far right party to have fallen out with the law.
Two MEPs have been questioned over the illegal financing of an electoral campaign, and the Paris Public Prosecutor opened a preliminary investigation on 24 March this year into breach of trust allegations made by Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament.
Since Jean-Marie Le Pen established the French National Front in the 1970s, bringing together a wide range of extreme right political movements, the party has always been home to a number of very distinct movements.
The strategy of normalisation run by the party's current president Marine Le Pen is similar to the operation undertaken by other extreme right wing European parties, which call for a "chauvinistic" welfare state, which protects only one part of the population.
With one eye on France's 2017 presidential elections, Marine Le Pen is trying to distance herself from the racist language used by other European parties as well as some members of her own party.
- Jean-Marie Le Pen's hidden money in Switzerland (in French)