National Front's bank had right to close accounts, inquiry finds
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The Société Générale bank was within its rights to close accounts of France's far-right National Front (FN), the French central bank declared on Monday. Party leader Marine Le Pen repeated her accusation of political bias and said she would take the case to court.
Société Générale, which has been the National Front's bank for 30 years, did not fail in its legal obligations in closing the FN's national account and those of several local federations, the Banque de France found.
It concluded that there was no discrimination against the party.
Le Pen, who labelled the closures a "banking fatwa" last week, slammed the central bank saying it had "issued a statement and said nothing", adding "The court will decide."
Having been asked to look into the question by the FN and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, the Banque de France did not open a formal investigation, limiting its inquiries to speaking to FN treasurer Wallerand Saint-Just and Société Générale representatives.
Le Maire on Tuesday issued a statement noting that the FN had been treated "strictly in conformity with the law" but promised to ensure that parties have the necessary banking facilities to take "contribute to the democratic debate".
The central bank said that such an inquiry was "very exceptional" for a political party, pointing out that only a few local branches of political groupings have asked it to intervene in the past.
FN denied cheque book
The FN is also unhappy with the alternative suggested by the Banque de France.
The Crédit du Nord, which is a Société Générale subsidiary, refused to issue the party a cheque book and would not accept donations by bankers' card via the FN's website, which not only made it more difficult for sympathisers to give money but also obstructed payments from MPs and MEPs, who, like other French elected representatives, pay part of their parliamentary income to the party.
The Crédit du Nord was also within its rights, the Banque de France found.
"They have fought us politically, and hard. They are fighting us legally. And now they are fighting us financially," Le Pen commented on Tuesday.
Société Générale insists that its decision was based purely on business considerations, giving rise to speculation in the French press as to the reasons.
Among the suggestions has been the possibility of a suspicion of money-laundering, possibly in connection with a nine-million- euro loan from Russia's First Czech-Russian Bank ahead of this year's presidential election.
The Euro-MP who was an intermediary in the negotiations, Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, has also had his account closed, according to l'Opinion magazine.
"Don't get caught up in any slanderous hypotheses," Le Pen said on Tuesday when the question was raised with her, pointing out that the money-laundering agency Tracfin has not been brought into the case.
Money worries after 2017 elections
The decision could be purely because the FN is in financial difficulties, according to the Mediapart website, which broke the story along with France Inter radio.
The party took out several loans before this year's presidential and general elections and will have to start paying them back at the beginning of next year.
And, having won 500,000 fewer votes this year than in the previous parliamentary poll, it will receive 538,000 euros less in public subsidies.
The party is thinking of laying of staff and moving to a smaller headquarters.
In 2011 Société Générale asked for its previous headquarters to be seized so as to pay 5.2 million euros the party owed at the time, although it lent the party a further four million euros in 2012.
This year it made no loans to any political party "for credit policy reasons and for political neutrality", according to its boss, Frédéric Oudéa.
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