Far-right French party charged in campaign finance probe

By The Associated Press | Posted - Sep. 9, 2015 at 12:35 p.m.

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PARIS (AP) — France's far-right National Front party was handed preliminary charges Wednesday in an investigation into funding of the party's 2012 legislative campaign.

The Paris prosecutor's office said the party itself was placed under investigation for complicity in fraud and receiving misappropriated funds. Two other entities have been handed preliminary charges in the months-long probe.

Six people also are also being investigated, but the probe hasn't involved leader Marine Le Pen, who has her eye on France's 2017 presidential race.

The National Front said in a statement it will lodge an appeal against the charges, which it said amount to an "unprecedented relentless pursuit" of the party.

The investigation centers on an alleged overbilling scheme by the communications firm Riwal, run by an old friend of Le Pen's who once led an extreme-right group, with the state paying out the extra funds as campaign reimbursements.

The party's No. 2 official, Florian Philippot, said on the iTele TV station the case is based on "absolute nothingness" and is the result of efforts by the nation's leaders to stigmatize the far-right party.

Marine Le Pen scores high in popularity polls, but the investigation risks tarnishing Le Pen's image as she feuds with her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, while trying to position the National Front for December's regional election. Her father was recently ousted from the National Front by its executive bureau. He has won three legal battles in the drama, however, and is expected to appeal the ouster.

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