Anti-Semitic hate trial opens for French far-right veteran Jean-Marie Le Pen
Jean-Marie Le Pen, the 93-year-old founder of France's main far-right party, goes on trial Wednesday, accused of inciting racial hatred through comments targeting the Jewish pop singer and actor Patrick Bruel.
Jean-Marie Le Pen already has a string of hate-speech convictions, for outrageous statements about Jews, Muslims, black people and immigrants.
The latest trial stems from a 2014 video on the party's website in which Le Pen criticised artists who denounced his extremist stance, including Madonna and the French tennis star-turned-singer Yannick Noah.
Asked about the French singer and actor Patrick Bruel, Le Pen referred to Bruel's Jewish origins with a reference to the Holocaust -- "I'm not surprised. Listen, next time we'll do a whole oven batch!"
The taunt sparked a torrent of indignation, even from leaders of his own party. Le Pen's daughter Marine Le Pen, now president of the far-right organisation, criticised what she called a "political error".
Jean-Marie claimed the comments carried no anti-Semitic connotations "except for my political enemies or imbeciles".
Comments 'taken out of context'
Le Pen does not intend to appear in person at the trial in Paris, where he is charged with inciting anti-Semitic hatred.
"This case is based only on part of a phrase taken out of context," said his lawyer Fréderic Joachim, who will seek to have the charge dismissed.
The trial which opens this week was delayed for years while Le Pen claimed immunity from prosecution as an MEP, a seat he won in 1984 and held until 2019.
But fellow lawmakers stripped him of legal protection in 2016.
Le Pen, his daughter and others from the party -- now renamed the National Rally -- are also facing financial misconduct charges for allegedly using EU funds to pay the salaries of party members unconnected with the European Parliament
Investigators allege senior members of the far-right group used 6.8 million euros in public funds to finance party work in France.
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