French police have searched the Paris-based headquarters of far-right leader Marine Le Pen’s National Front (FN) party in relation to a probe into alleged misuse of EU funds, according to a party statement.
The European Parliament (EP) says Le Pen, a member of the European institution since 2004, had paid FN party staff with EP funds.
According to EU rules, parliamentary money should be used only to pay assistants working with the institution.
The parliament says the breach happened during the 2011-12 legislature, after Le Pen assumed her role as FN leader in January 2011.
The EP says 20 assistants presented as parliamentary aides back then continued to work for the FN elsewhere.
Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Paris, said Le Pen, currently in a visit to Lebanon, has not yet commented on the police search, but in the past, she has always denied misusing European funds.
“She basically says this is a political smear by her opponents because she is running very much on an anti-EU platform,” Butler said.
The raid is the second in a year by investigators trying to determine whether the FN misused EP funds.
“For the second time, a raid took place at the same offices, over the same allegations, which confirms that the first raid amounted to nothing,” the party said in a statement.
The group accused investigators acting for the Paris prosecutor’s office of a “media operation” designed to disrupt Le Pen’s campaign before a presidential vote in April.
Fillon, a former prime minister, has been hit by allegations that his wife was paid for years as his assistant in the French parliament but never actually worked there.
“The parallels are rather striking with Fillon who is also accused of using parliamentary money, this time in France, to pay his relatives for fake jobs,” Butler said.
Butler added: “He has always presented himself as an honest politician and those allegations have been very damaging.
“The spotlight has been very much on Fillon until now but of course with the French police now being involved it seems that perhaps Le Pen will be far more in the headlines after this search.”
An election poll by Opinionway, the French research company, had Le Pen easily beating her four main rivals and winning the first round with a score of 27 percent to move through to the two-way runoff against either Fillon or Emmanuel Macron, the left-wing independent candidate.
According to the poll, Le Pen is predicted to lose in the second round to either of the candidates.