Marine Le Pen’s Head of Cabinet Charged in EU Assistants Probe

  • Case concerns suspicions Le Pen misused European money
  • Le Pen’s bodyguard released after being placed in custody

French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s head of cabinet was charged late on Wednesday as she brushed off allegations that she misused European Parliament funds, saying they were politically motivated.

The cabinet head was charged for being the recipient of misappropriated funds, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office. Le Pen’s body guard, who was also interrogated today, was released without being charged.

“I formally contest the facts that we’re being charged for,” Le Pen said on TF1 television. “The judicial system shouldn’t be upsetting the presidential campaign.”

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 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.

In French legal proceedings, investigative judges can charge companies or individuals in a procedure known as “mise en examen” when there is “serious and consistent” evidence showing likely involvement in the matter under investigation.

The European Parliament has ordered Le Pen to repay the money, estimating the improper payments at 336,146 euros ($355,000). 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, 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.

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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