Le Pen Struggling to Fund French Race as Russian Bank Fails

  • National Front seeks $21 million for two campaigns in 2017
  • Loss of Russian lender was “hard blow,” treasurer says

National Front leader Marine Le Pen is struggling to raise the 20 million euros ($21 million) she needs to fund French presidential and legislative campaigns in 2017 after the party’s Russian lender failed, the party treasurer said.

The Central Bank of Russia revoked the license of the National Front’s Moscow-based lender First Czech Russian Bank OOO in July and the party has still to find another backer, according to treasurer Wallerand de Saint Just. Saint Just said he’s seeking international financiers in countries including Russia because French banks have refused to fund his party.

Marine Le Pen at her campaign headquarters in Paris.

Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg

“The loss of the FCRB was a hard blow for us,” Saint Just said in a telephone interview. “The Russia loan was a stable resource. Now we are still searching for loans.”

Le Pen’s ties with Russia have come under scrutiny in recent weeks amid reports that the CIA concluded that President Vladimir Putin directed hackers to buoy the candidacy of Donald Trump in the U.S. Le Pen is running second in the race to become France’s next president and is openly supportive of Putin’s military operations in Syria and his annexation of Crimea.

FCRB lent the National Front 9 million euros in 2014. In the same year, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen’s political fund Cotelec received another 2 million-euro loan from a Russian-backed fund based in Cyprus, news website Mediapart reported. Saint Just said Cotelec helped fund the party’s 2015 regional campaign.
Le Pen wouldn’t have any problem in getting a Russian loan but has apparently decided the risks outweigh the benefits because she’d be hounded for this by the French media, said Sergei Markov, a political consultant to the Kremlin administration.
“Le Pen doesn’t want to endanger her chances,” Markov said by phone. While Russia sees the conservative candidate Francois Fillon as a strong presidential contender, it also doesn’t rule out a far-right victory, he said.

Moscow Trips

Le Pen has raised some money from followers and the party has some reserves it can draw on, Saint Just said, without giving any figures.

“In these funding matters you have to remain discreet,” he said. “No figures, no names.”

A U.S. investment bank was preparing to lend the party $20 million in August, but pulled the plug on the deal at the last minute, Le Parisian reported on Thursday, citing people close to Le Pen without naming them.

The National Front leader and her allies have made multiple trips to Moscow or Crimea in recent years. Putin this month signed a “working agreement” with Austria’s populist Freedom Party in Moscow, after the group reached the runoff for its presidential election.

Amid concern that Russia may also seek to influence European elections, the National Front has begun to play down its ties to Moscow. In February Saint Just said the party was reaching out to Russian banks for 25 million euros to bankroll its presidential campaign.

Unlike other candidates, Le Pen hasn’t disclosed her campaign’s funding or spending.

Republicans nominee Francois Fillon, who is leading in the polls, published the spending on his primary campaign on Wednesday while centrist contender Emmanuel Macron said his newly founded party En Marche! has raised 4 million euros from donors. Both disclosures were voluntary as campaign accounts don’t have be made public in France.

The two-round presidential election is scheduled for April 23 and May 7 and the French will return to the polls on June 11 and 18 to elect delegates to the National Assembly, the lower chamber.

(Updates with aborted loan deal in 10th paragraph.)
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