Marine Le Pen has admitted that her far-right Front National accepted money from a Russian bank, amid growing evidence that the Kremlin is backing anti-European parties across the continent.
Le Pen said that her party had received a loan of €9 million (£7 million) in September from the Russian-owned First Czech-Russian Bank, but insisted that the money would have no impact on her policies.
“We signed with the First [bank] who agreed and we’re very happy about it,” she said. But it is “ridiculous to suggest that gaining a loan would determine our international position,” she insisted. “These insinuations are outrageous and offensive.”
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According to recent opinion polls, the National Front is now France’s most popular party.
Russian loans have also been extended to Greece’s neofascist Golden Dawn party, Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, Italy’s Northern League, Hungary’s Jobbik and the Freedom Party of Austria, The Times reports. All of these parties except Golden Dawn were invited to observe Crimea's vote on joining Russia and all offered their support for the annexation of the south-eastern Ukrainian region.
The loans to the National Front from the Russian-owned bank occurred amid "growing evidence of a secret Kremlin campaign to buy influence in European politics," The Times says.
French politician Bruno Le Maire, a former cabinet minister who is running for the leadership of the centre-right Union for a Popular Movement, said that it was inconceivable that the loans would have no impact on Le Pen's attitude to Russia: “You are always under obligation to your creditor,” he said.
France’s National Front has "long struggled to raise the cash needed to match its political ambitions," France 24 reports. The party's treasurer Wallerand de Saint-Just said that the loans would be used to finance campaigning expenses in the lead up to the French national elections in 2017, for which the party would need approximately "30 to 40 million euros".
Last month, Vincent Jauvert claimed in the French weekly magazine Le Nouvel Observateur that National Front leaders had been in regular communication with the Russian ambassador in Paris, Alexander Orlov.
"The Kremlin has been betting on the National Front," Jauvert said. "It considers the party able to take power in France and potentially reverse the course of European history in favour of Moscow".
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