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EU Parliament to begin process of lifting Le Pen immunity over misused funds

Marine Le Pen (R), French National Front (FN) political party leader and candidate for French 2017 presidential election, and her bodyguard Thierry Legier leave the haidresser in front of her campaign headquarters in Paris, France, April 24, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Parliament is expected to begin the process to lift the immunity of France’s far-right presidential challenger Marine Le Pen on Wednesday for her alleged misuse of European Union funds, parliament officials said.

French judges have asked European lawmakers to remove immunity of the National Front candidate, who is a member of the EU legislature, to allow further investigation into allegations she abuse of funds to pay for party assistants.

The announcement will be made at a plenary sitting in Brussels on Wednesday afternoon, two parliament officials said, in line with standard procedures.

While a financial scandal derailed the presidential bid of French conservative Francois Fillon, Le Pen, who is staunchly anti-EU, has so far survived the allegations unscathed. She came second in Sunday’s first round, and will now face independent centrist Emmanuel Macron in a run-off.

She could be summoned by the parliament as early as next week to provide explanations about the case, though if she were she might decide not to appear, with the second round due to be held on May 7.

The parliament is also assessing whether to lift her immunity over a separate case of defamation in France. Le Pen has denounced legal proceedings against her as political interference.

EU lawmakers have already sanctioned Le Pen for misspending EU funds. Since February her monthly salary as an EU lawmaker has been cut by half to about 3,000 euros and other allowances have been withdrawn.

The French investigation is aimed at establishing whether other sanctions are warranted.

The EU legislature lifted Le Pen’s immunity in March in relation to a another French investigation over her posting of pictures of Islamic State violence on social media, an offence that in France can carry a penalty of three years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros ($82,000).

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; editing by Richard Lough