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French prosecutors seek to lift Le Pen immunity over expenses probe

Marine Le Pen at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 26 October, 2016
Marine Le Pen at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 26 October, 2016 Frederick Florin/AFP

French prosecutors have asked the European parliament to lift the immunity of far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen over an expenses scandal, deepening her legal woes on the eve of the election, legal sources said on Friday. 

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The move comes just nine days before France heads to the polls for a highly unpredictable vote with Le Pen, who heads the Eurosceptic National Front (FN), one of the frontrunners in the 23 April first round.

The request was made at the end of last month after Le Pen, who is a member of the European Parliament, invoked her parliamentary immunity in refusing to attend questioning by investigating magistrates.

The prosecutors also made a similar request regarding another MEP from Le Pen's party, Marie-Christine Boutonnet, who also avoided questioning.

Le Pen, who has denied misusing parliamentary funds, shrugged off the move, saying it was "normal".

"It's totally normal procedure, I'm not surprised," she told France Info radio.

The case was triggered by a complaint from the European Parliament, which accuses the FN of defrauding it to the tune of some 340,000 euros.

The parliament believes the party used funds allotted for parliamentary assistants to pay FN staff for party work in France. In February, it said it would start docking Le Pen's pay unless she paid back the money.

Two employees charged

Investigators probing the allegations against the FN raided the party's headquarters outside Paris last month.

Le Pen's chief of staff Catherine Griset was questioned at length by investigators before being charged with concealment.

The European Parliament, which meets in both Strasbourg and Brussels, says Griset was among the employees paid from funds for work in France.

Charles Hourcade, a former assistant to Boutonnet who once worked as a graphic designer at the FN's headquarters, was also charged over the affair.

Le Pen's bodyguard Thierry Legier was also questioned by investigators but was not charged.

Le Pen has already had her parliamentary immunity lifted over a separate affair dating to 2015 when she shared graphic pictures of Islamic State atrocities on Twitter.

Those pictures saw her placed under investigation for "dissemination of violent images".

(with AFP)

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