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France's far-right FN scrambles for election funding

Reuters , Thursday 5 Jan 2017
French far-right party Front National President
File Photo: French far-right party Front National (FN) President and Member of the European Parliament Marine Le Pen attending a voting session as part of a plenary session of the European Parliament, in Strasbourg, eastern France (Photo: AFP)
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France's far-right National Front says it is scrambling to find funding to fight its 2017 presidential election campaign, accusing French banks of playing politics by refusing to lend cash.

Marine Le Pen's National Front (FN) has borrowed about 6 million euros from her estranged father and party founder Jean-Marie - an ironic twist since she threw him out of the party, but a vital move now with her back to the wall over financing.

At the same time, Russia has started legal proceedings to recover a 9 million euro ($9.45 million) loan from the FN after the bank the party borrowed from in 2014 had its licence revoked. The impact this will have on the party's finances is unclear.

"We have additional funding to find. We'll find it," Marine Le Pen told reporters. "It's half (of what we need), but we'll find it," she said, adding that she was unfazed by this but without giving further details.

"We'll end up finding it. We will find one bank somewhere in the world that is willing to lend us that money," she said.

The FN said in December it needed 27 million euros for presidential and parliamentary election campaigning.

The FN received the 9 million euro loan from First Czech-Russian bank to cover other election campaigning costs. But the bank later lost its licence to operate.

Potential Russian influence over western elections has become a sensitive issue since U.S. intelligence agencies accused their Russian counterparts of seeking to disrupt the U.S. election through hacking and cyber attacks. Moscow has denied the allegations.

There is a lot at stake for Le Pen, who has moderated her party's image to broaden its appeal before the spring election and who pollsters say has a good chance of getting through to the runoff vote for the Elysee in May.

Asked by journalists recently if her party was knocking on Russian banks' doors this time round too, Le Pen frankly admitted she was scouring all corners for cash.

"I'm looking everywhere, including in the United States, including in Britain, absolutely everywhere," she said.

Le Pen said that, unlike mainstream parties, the FN had not managed to secure any loans from French banks. "French banks are playing a political role," she said, suggesting her party was being unjustly marginalised because of its far-right programme.

Le Pen has the support of around a quarter of French voters according to opinion polls, but campaign funding for the anti-immigrant and euro-sceptical party has long been an issue.

There is a funding ceiling that candidates in French presidential elections cannot overshoot. In 2012 that was 16.85 million euros for candidates taking part in the first round and 21.51 million for those taking part in the second round.

FN Secretary General Nicolas Bay shared Le Pen's views on the behaviour of French banks. "They are acting in an anti-democratic way," he told reporters on Wednesday. "Democracy would require banks to lend to all candidates."

Le Pen's party has struck a deal with her father for his mini-party Cotelec to lend it some 6 million euros in tranches, her campaign director David Rachline told Reuters at the end of December.

"The deal (on the loan) was concluded months ago," Rachline said, without giving further details.

The split between Le Pen senior and his daughter, who took the helm of the party in 2011, ended up with the father being kicked out of the party in August last year.

As for the older loan, Russia's state Deposit Insurance Agency told the RNS news agency in late December it had acquired the right to recover the defunct bank's assets.

"Before the bank's operating license was revoked, the right to claim under the credit agreement with the French National Front party was ceded to a third party. Currently, this transaction is being disputed in court," RNS quoted the agency as saying.

Reuters in Moscow could not reach the Deposit Insurance Agency for comment.

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