A Friday email from the European Union’s anti-fraud group claimed that two of French National Front leader Marine Le Pen’s employees received salaries as European Parliament assistants, positions about which the unit’s probe discovered “serious irregularities,” according to the email.
The latest allegations make Ms. Le Pen the second major presidential contender to face fraud accusations after the French newspaper “Le Canard enchaîné” published an article stating that Conservative frontrunner François Fillon provided his wife and two of his children with fictitious employment as parliamentary assistants – positions from which they received income for years.
While Mr. Fillon has been forthright about the fact that his family did indeed hold such positions and received salaries, he has repeatedly claimed that they performed the required work and thus committed no legal infraction.
While maintaining his official innocence, Fillon has agreed that the French people no longer condone such practices and has apologized for his lapse in judgment, saying that he made a “mistake,” according to the BBC.
Although Fillon says he believes he technically committed no legal offense, the report has had devastating consequences for his presidential campaign with 65 percent of the population polled expressing their desire to see the Conservative leader drop his candidacy, according to Reuters.
The rapid drop in popularity for the Conservative nominee initially appeared to propel Le Pen towards the French presidency.
Le Pen, whose policies are sometimes compared with those of American President Donald Trump, strongly advocates nationalism and economic protectionism, promising to pull France out of the European Union — positions that have gained popularity recently among the populous that has grown frustrated with open border policies and global economic instability.
Current president François Hollande, who has led the country for the past five years, has reached all-time lows in approval ratings, with nearly 90 percent of the population disapproving of the Socialist leader.
According to The Washington Post, Hollande's predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy never fell beneath 30 percent approval.
While his popularity had risen slightly following the initial Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in Paris France, the continually-high unemployment rates as well as further extremist attacks throughout France have driven his numbers to record lows and swung the French political climate towards the right — the spectrum dominated by Le Pen following Mr. Fillon’s fraud accusations.
“There was absolutely nothing fake, no fake jobs,” Le Pen said on France Bleu radio Friday, quoted by Bloomberg News. She has subsequently filed complaints against OLAF — the EU’s anti fraud body challenging the information at the EU General Court in Luxembourg.
OLAF however maintains that serious irregularities exist for a Le Pen staffer who was wasn’t working as a Parliamentary Assistant but did receive compensation estimated at 336,146 euros ($357,000) of improper payments from EU funds.
Le Pen maintains she has never met with OLAF investigators, but told France Bleu that she “not in the good books of the European Commission” based on her outspoken desire to remove France from the European Union.
Yet to be seen is the effect the recent allegations will have on polling numbers as now Independent Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron becomes the only member of the three frontrunners currently not facing fraud allegations.