France's far-right FN scrambles to raise cash for election battle

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s far-right National Front is struggling to raise millions of euros it needs to fund its presidential election campaign, but leader Marine Le Pen vowed: “We will find one bank somewhere in the world that is willing to lend us that money.”

Marine Le Pen, French far-right National Front (FN) party president, member of European Parliament and candidate for French 2017 presidential election, speaks during a New Year wishes ceremony to the media in Paris, France, January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Le Pen - who has been tipped to make it through to the second-round runoff in May - accused French banks of playing politics by refusing to lend money to her party, suggesting it was being marginalised because of its far-right policies.

The National Front (FN) said in December it needed to raise 27 million euros ($28 million) to fund its campaigning for the presidential and parliamentary elections in April-June. [nL5N1EH3UR]

It has borrowed about 6 million euros from a political fundraising association headed by Le Pen’s estranged father and FN founder Jean-Marie - an ironic twist given she threw him out of the party in 2015.

“We have additional funding to find. We’ll find it,” Le Pen told reporters on Wednesday. “It’s half (of what we need), but we’ll find it,” she said, without specifying how much of the 27 millions euros the party had raised so far.

“We’ll end up finding it. We will find one bank somewhere in the world that is willing to lend us that money,” she said.

Separately, Russia has started legal proceedings to recover a 9-million-euro loan from the FN after the Moscow-based bank from which the party borrowed the money in 2014 had its operating licence revoked because it held insufficient capital. The impact this will have on the party’s finances is unclear.

Asked by journalists if her party was knocking on Russian banks’ doors again to ease its funding squeeze, Le Pen said: “I’m looking everywhere, including in the United States, including in Britain, absolutely everywhere.”

There is a lot at stake for Le Pen, who has sought to moderate the image of her anti-immigration and eurosceptic party to broaden its appeal, and has the support of around a quarter of French voters according to opinion polls.

Le Pen said that, unlike mainstream parties, the FN had not managed to secure any loans from French banks. “French banks are playing a political role,” she said.

The French Banking Federation declined to comment.


Political parties often look to bank loans to bolster their war chests as under French law donations are capped at 7,500 euros per person, per year, and cannot come from companies or foreigners.

The financial risk for banks is limited, since candidates who gather more than 5 percent of the votes get almost half of their campaign spending reimbursed by the state.

Le Pen’s party has struck a deal with her father for his funding association Cotelec to lend it about 6 million euros in tranches before the presidential election in April-May, her campaign director David Rachline told Reuters in December.

“The deal (on the loan) was concluded months ago,” Rachline said, without giving further details.

Jean-Marie Le Pen set up Cotelec in 1988, when he was FN leader, to help finance the party’s campaigns.

The split between Le Pen senior and his daughter, who took the helm of the party in 2011, ended up with the father being kicked out of the party after he described the Holocaust as “a detail” of Second World War history.

As for the older loan, Russia’s state Deposit Insurance Agency (DIA) told the RNS news agency in December it had acquired the right to recover the defunct First Czech Russian Bank’s assets.

“Before the bank’s operating license was revoked, the right to claim under the credit agreement with the French National Front party was ceded to a third party. Currently, this transaction is being disputed in court,” Russia’s RNS quoted the DIA as saying.

Reuters could not reach the DIA for comment.

FN Treasurer Wallerand de Saint-Just said he was not concerned about the case and added that he was unclear about the details.

Separately, the FN is facing a judicial investigation that was opened by the Paris prosecutor in December over the employment of assistants to the party’s lawmakers in the European Parliament, a judicial source said on Thursday.

The inquiry was opened on suspicion of breach of trust, fraud and concealed employment, the source said. It followed a complaint by the European Parliament which suspected the assistants were working for the party as a whole rather than solely for the lawmakers.

De Saint-Just denied any wrongdoing by the FN.

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Additional reporting by Jack Stubbs in Moscow and Marine Pennetier in Paris; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Pravin Char