France's Le Pen Denies Allegations Her Aides Had Fake EU Jobs

  • Fraud office wants $357,000 repaid for serious irregularities
  • Le Pen, Fillon face spending outcry amid poll race with Macron

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen denied an allegation by the European Union’s fraud office that she gave her aides fake parliamentary jobs, after she became the second main contender in the nation’s presidential race to become embroiled in a funding controversy.

OLAF, the EU anti-fraud body, said in an e-mail Friday that two of the National Front leader’s employees received salaries as European Parliament assistants. It said its probe found “serious irregularities” and a fake work contract.

“There was absolutely nothing fake, no fake jobs,” Le Pen said on France Bleu radio Friday. Le Pen has filed a complaint against OLAF representatives and the European Parliament’s secretary general in Brussels. She also filed a challenge at the EU General Court in Luxembourg.

The allegations of misused EU funding echo a string of reports about Le Pen’s conservative rival Francois Fillon, with the Republican candidate’s campaign roiled by reports that his wife was on the French parliament’s payroll but may not have worked. Fillon, who says his wife was properly employed as his assistant, said Friday he would run even if prosecutors open a formal investigation, contradicting an earlier pledge.

Fillon, Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron are the three main contenders in the race. First-round support for Le Pen was stable at 26 percent in a daily Ifop poll released Friday. While that support level would get her to the second round of voting on May 7, she would then be defeated by Fillon or Macron, the poll indicates.

Payment to Assistant

OLAF said its investigation revealed serious irregularities, including a fake work contract for one of Le Pen’s staffers and a Paris-based National Front employee who wasn’t working as a parliamentary assistant but was being paid with EU funds. OLAF said it estimates the improper payments total 336,146 euros ($357,000). That sum will start being deducted from Le Pen’s salary as a member of the European Parliament, according to Agence France Presse.

“It’s not up to the parliament’s administration to judge the way and method” in which parliamentary assistants are employed, Marcel Ceccaldi, Le Pen’s lawyer, said by phone Thursday. He said that Le Pen’s parliamentary assistant, Catherine Griset, had a Belgian certificate of residency, and that aides of EU parliamentarians weren’t required to live in Brussels.

He also said the other staffer, Thierry Legier, had a position as an assistant and that one of Le Pen’s aides had asked to “regularize” that work. Legier is the author of a memoir of working as a bodyguard for the National Front leader’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Investigator Meeting

Le Pen told France Bleu she hasn’t met with OLAF investigators. “I never acknowledged anything in front of investigators -- whom I have never seen,” she said. OLAF said Le Pen had replied in writing to the fraud investigator.

Le Pen, who has said she wants to take France out of the euro currency union, questioned the independence of OLAF, which she said was “a European Commission body, and you can imagine that I am not in the good books of the European Commission.”

OLAF said it sent its conclusions to the European Parliament and the French prosecutor, and reaffirmed its independence. The anti-fraud office declined to release its report, citing confidentiality rules.

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