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1ST LEAD Le Pen on defensive over alleged fictional job contract for aide By Pol O Gradaigh, dpa

Europe
17.02.2017
By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Paris (dpa) - France‘s far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen was forced onto the defensive Friday over allegations she had claimed undue expenses, with the EU‘s anti-fraud office saying she had submitted an "entirely fictional employment contract" for an aide.

The contract resulted in an "undue expense" for the European Parliament, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) said Friday, citing an unpublished report it submitted in July.

Le Pen denounced the allegations, telling France Bleu radio that "there is absolutely nothing fictional, no fictional employment, nothing at all of that sort, in this file."

The European Parliament has already ordered Le Pen to repay 340,000 euros (362,000 dollars) on the basis of the OLAF report. On February 1 it said she had missed a deadline for an initial repayment of 298,000 euros.

According to OLAF, Le Pen had also had another assistant wrongly paid by the European Parliament who was really working for the candidate‘s National Front party in Paris.

Le Pen, who is in first place in current opinion polls with the backing of about a quarter of voters, is not the only candidate to face claims they have misused public money by creating fake jobs.

Conservative hopeful Francois Fillon is being investigated by prosecutors over allegations that his wife was paid for years as his assistant in the French parliament but did not actually work there.

Fillon has since dropped to third place in the polls, boosting the chances of centrist former economy minister Emmanuel Macron who is now favoured to win through April‘s first round of voting for a likely run-off against Le Pen in May.

OLAF‘s statement came a day after news site Mediapart published what it said were extracts from the watchdog‘s report, according to which Le Pen had acknowledged that her bodyguard had not actually received any payments himself under a 2011 employment contract reimbursed by the European Parliament.

"It is a shameless lie. I have never acknowledged anything whatsoever to investigators I have never met," Le Pen told France Bleu, adding that the arrangement questioned by OLAF was "an accounting adjustment."

Le Pen‘s lawyer Marcel Ceccardi meanwhile published a letter sent to the anti-fraud body in March saying that the contract was submitted in order to allow the parliament to reimburse work the bodyguard had actually done and been paid for in an earlier period.

The National Front leader, who has said that if elected president she will take France out of the euro currency and call a referendum on its continued membership of the EU, questioned OLAF‘s motives.

"But OLAF is not an independent body, it is an organ of the European Commission," she said. "You can imagine that I‘m not in the European Commission‘s good books."

Le Pen has worked to rebrand the National Front as more moderate since taking over the leadership from her father, its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2011.

The elder Le Pen has since been expelled for comments belittling the Holocaust - an unwelcome reminder of the party‘s past when the EU, immigration and law and order are the current focus of its populist rhetoric.

 

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