Le Pen Faces Probe for 2022 French Election Campaign Funding

(Bloomberg) -- French far-right leader Marine Le Pen faces an investigation over suspicions of illegal campaign financing related to her unsuccessful 2022 bid for the presidency — just as a poll places her as the front runner in the next race.

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The Paris prosecutor opened the case after it was alerted by the country’s campaign-funding watchdog in 2023, an official said in an email. The probe was escalated last week and passed on to an investigative judge with wider powers. BFM TV first published the news on Tuesday.

The investigation caps a disappointing week for Le Pen, whose National Rally fell to third place in Sunday’s legislative ballot. Still, the far-right party and its allies won 143 seats in France’s National Assembly — a quarter of the total and a record for the group. About a decade ago, the party had just two seats in the lower house of parliament. Furthermore, a poll on Tuesday suggested that she would lead the first round of the next French presidential election in 2027.

The probe would not be Le Pen’s first brush with the law. At the end of September, she goes on trial over allegations that she and her party diverted millions of euros in European Union funds to build up a platform in France.

The 2022 campaign-finance case could take years to come to a conclusion. It will examine suspicions that Le Pen accepted a loan from a legal entity — for example an association or a company — which is unlawful in France. The probe will also look into possible misappropriation of assets by persons holding public office, fraud and forgery.

A representative for Le Pen declined to provide an immediate comment on the investigation.

Le Pen has failed twice in her bid for the French presidency in contests against Emmanuel Macron — in 2017 and 2022 — but has increased her share of the vote each time. She widened her appeal by trying to bring her party more into the mainstream, distancing it from the overt racism of her father Jean-Marie Le Pen who co-founded the party.

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On Tuesday, Toluna-Harris Interactive published a poll that looked at four scenarios pitting her against different candidates from the left and the center. They don’t include Macron, who can’t run for a third consecutive term.

In all cases, Le Pen would get 31% or 32% of the presidential vote in the first round, putting her in the runoff. The scenarios set her against Macron’s former centrist prime minister, Edouard Philippe, seen getting 22% to 24%, or current premier Gabriel Attal, set to garner 20% to 23%.

(Updates with details throughout)

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