Le Pen May Be Able to Brush Off Scandal as Police Hold Aides

  • Case concerns suspicions Le Pen misused European money
  • Le Pen’s body guard, former cabinet head detained, questioned

Marine Le Pen’s bid for the French presidency may barely be affected by accusations that she misused parliamentary funds even as one of her main rivals battles to overcome a similar scandal.

Two aides to Le Pen were placed in custody for interrogation Wednesday after investigators raided her National Front party’s headquarters earlier in the week as part of a probe into whether she improperly used European money to pay their salaries. Having already dismissed the investigation as a “political plot ,” the candidate will probably brush off the matter again when she is questioned on television Wednesday evening.

For months, the anti-euro, anti-immigration candidate has led in polls for the first round of voting in France’s presidential election, though not the second. Because her populist campaign is about overturning France’s ruling elites, her supporters are unlikely to blanch at such allegations.

“The National Front base is committed because what motivates them is rejecting the political class,” said Yves-Marie Cann, a pollster at Elabe in Paris. “The allegations actually strengthen her with her base, though they may stop her from picking up further support.”

Le Pen’s body guard as well as her former cabinet head were placed in custody for an interrogation regarding suspicions of fictitious employment at the European Parliament as parliamentary assistants, the Paris prosecutor’s office said. The European Parliament has ordered Le Pen to repay the money, estimating the improper payments at 336,146 euros ($353,000). She has refused to pay it back, saying the jobs weren’t fictitious, and has appealed the decision.

Le Pen isn’t the only candidate with legal issues. Republican contender Francois Fillon is being probed over whether his wife actually worked while she was on the French parliament’s payroll as an aide to her husband. The difference is that the news of the Fillon investigation in late January knocked more than five points off his support, relegating him to third place behind Le Pen and independent candidate Emmanuel Macron, though he has since recovered some ground.

Now ranking third in some polls, Emmanuel Macron, the 39-year-old independent is trying to catch up. Speaking to French voters in London Tuesday he said he is ready for a tough fight in the final two months before the first round of balloting.

“The period that is coming will be very hard -- I’m ready,” Macron told a crowd of 3,500 in central London.

An Elabe poll published Tuesday gave Fillon 21 percent going into the first round, with Macron at 18.5 percent. While Le Pen has at least 27 percent support, the Elabe poll, like others, shows that she would lose to both Fillon and Macron in the run off vote.

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