French far-right leader Le Pen should stand trial for alleged misuse of EU funds - Prosecutor

Marine Le Pen, member of parliament and president of the French far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National - RN) party parliamentary group, speaks during the questions to the government session at the National Assembly in Paris, France, July 4, 2023. REUTERS/Stephanie Lecocq/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) -The Paris prosecutor's office said on Friday that far-right leader Marine Le Pen and 23 other members of her party should stand trial over alleged misuse of EU funds, escalating a seven-year-old probe.

The Paris prosecutor's office opened the investigation in December 2016, saying it aimed to ascertain whether the then National Front had used money destined for EU parliamentary assistants to pay staff who were working for the party.

EU lawmakers are allocated funds to cover expenses, including their assistants, but are not meant to use them for party expenses.

The prosecutor's office said some 49 assistants' situation had been examined over a period of time spanning three EU parliament terms of office, from 2004 to 2016.

It was prompted by a report from parliament, which had noticed some assistants were holding high ranking positions within Le Pen's party - now known as the Rassemblement national (RN) - which seemed irreconcilable with their full time parliamentary job.

The RN denies any wrongdoing.

"We dispute this position which seems to be an erroneous understanding of the work of opposition lawmakers and their assistants, which is above all a political one," the party told Reuters in a statement.

Le Pen faced Emmanuel Macron twice in the second round of France’s presidential elections, in 2017 and 2022, and is widely seen as a frontrunner in the next one in 2027.

She faces a potential 10-year jail sentence, a one million euros fine, and - as she's an elected official - ineligibility to hold public office for 10 years, the prosecutor's office said.

Judges will have to decide whether or not to accept the prosecutor's office petition for trial.

(Reporting by Juliette Jabkhiro, Dominique Vidalon, Elizabeth Pineau, Writing by Charlotte Van Campenhout, Editing by William Maclean)

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