Court rejects Le Pen bid to halt recovery of EU money

EU court upholds bloc's decision to recover money paid by French far-right leader for her security.

    Le Pen hired a bodyguard on a three-month contract and wrongfully paid more than $46,000 [Charles Platiau/Reuters]
    Le Pen hired a bodyguard on a three-month contract and wrongfully paid more than $46,000 [Charles Platiau/Reuters]

    A top European Union court has upheld the bloc's decision to recover money from far-right politician Marine Le Pen, delivering the former French presidential candidate a second legal setback this year.

    The EU's General Court, its second highest court, on Wednesday rejected a bid by Le Pen to halt the repayment of parliamentary expenses she used to pay a bodyguard.

    Le Pen, member of the European Parliament from 2009 until 2017 for the National Front - now renamed National Rally - party, hired the bodyguard on a three-month contract in 2011 with a monthly pre-tax salary of over $10,000.

    According to the EU anti-fraud agency, OLAF, which started an investigation into the case in 2014, a total sum of $46,902 should be paid back by Le Pen because it was wrongfully paid to the assistant.

    Le Pen said the original decision was based on factual errors, misuse of power, discrimination and a lack of independence by OLAF. 

    The General Court rejected those claims, saying they lacked evidence or legal basis.

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    The far-right leader can still appeal the decision at the European Court of Justice, the EU’s top court.

    It is not the first time Le Pen has to pay back money to the EU she had spent wrongly.

    In June, the General Court had upheld a parliamentary decision to recover $470,346 paid to another person hired by Le Pen as a personal assistant.

    Controversial leader

    Le Pen has also been involved in a court case for the "distribution of violent images" on Twitter.

    The tweets, written shortly after the 2015 Paris attacks, showed executions carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) members and included an image of the body of American journalist James Foley, who was decapitated, as shown in a widely circulated video by a member of ISIL, and a captured Jordanian pilot being burned alive in a cage.

    If convicted, Le Pen could potentially face three years in jail and a 75,000 euros ($90,000) fine.

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    Additionally, Le Pen's political group Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) to which Le Pen's party belongs, was ordered in July to pay back more than $580,000 claimed in unjustified expenses, including expensive champagne and dinners.

    The ENF group brings together 35 MEPs, of which almost half are from Le Pen's party. It also includes members of other far-right European parties like the Austrian FPO, the Italian League and the Dutch Party for Freedom.

    Some of the group's 2018 funds were frozen by the European Parliament as a precaution to ensure it could pay back the money.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies