EU parliament strips Le Pen of immunity in defamation case

Marine Le Pen, former French presidential election candidate for the far-right National Front (FN) party, poses prior to an interview on prime time news broadcast of French TV channel TF1, in Boulogne-Billancourt, near Paris, France, May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Guillot/Pool

STRASBOURG (Reuters) - The European Parliament lifted Marine Le Pen’s immunity from prosecution in a vote on Thursday that allows French prosecutors to continue a defamation action against the far-right National Front leader.

Le Pen is facing legal action in France following criticism of the center-right mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, who filed suit against her for accusing him of being in league with Islamist militants.

Le Pen, runner-up to Emmanuel Macron in last month’s French presidential election, already lost immunity in March in a case over tweets of graphic images of executions by Islamic State and risks losing it in a case involving alleged misuse of EU funds.

In their own state’s territory, MEPs enjoy immunity as accorded to members of their own parliament. The French constitution provides immunity in cases related to opinions expressed or votes cast by lawmakers during official duties.

Earlier this week, the European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs recommended that Le Pen’s parliamentary immunity should be waived as her alleged statements on Estrosi were not made in the course of her duties as an MEP. It also found that there were no grounds that the request to remove her immunity had been made to cause her political damage.

Fellow National Front EU lawmaker Gilles Lebreton accused the legislature of accelerating the vote to suspend Le Pen’s immunity to damage the party ahead of Sunday’s second round of voting in a French parliamentary election. Le Pen’s party received 14 percent of the vote in the first round.

Le Pen, Lebreton said, welcomed the opportunity that the defamation case would give her to continue her criticism of Estrosi.

Le Pen, who has denounced legal proceedings against her as politically-motivated, chose not to accept either of two invitations to appear before the Committee on Legal Affairs.

Reporting by Gilbert Reilhac in Strasbourg and Elizabeth Miles in Brussels; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Toby Davis