French far-left leader, party targeted in anti-corruption raids

PARIS (Reuters) - Anti-corruption investigators raided the home and party headquarters of French far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon on Tuesday, part of a long-running investigation into the alleged misuse of European Parliament funds to pay party employees.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of far-left opposition France Insoumise (France Unbowed) political party, speaks during a questions to the government session at the National Assembly in Paris, France, October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

The raids took place at the offices of La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) in central Paris and Melenchon’s private residence, where hundreds of supporters gathered at his urging to protest against the police action.

“This is a politically-motivated act, it’s an act of political aggression,” Melenchon said in a video posted on his Facebook page.

Later, standing outside the party headquarters, he called the raids an “enormous operation by politicized police”.

A source close to the raids, which targeted 15 locations and included another left-wing party, said they were being carried out by a specialist anti-corruption unit that focuses on financial and tax irregularities.

Two investigations are underway, one looking into the alleged misuse of European Parliament funds to pay party employees in France, and the other examining funding of Melenchon’s French presidential campaign last year.

Several French parties have been targeted over their use of European Parliament funds, including Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (formerly called the National Front) and the centrist Modem party.

Lawmakers elected to the European Parliament are allocated funds to cover expenses, including the running of their offices in Brussels and Strasbourg and assistants’ salaries, but they cannot use the money to pay for party staff at home.

Last week, a French judge stepped up the inquiry into Le Pen, with a source inside her party saying she was now being investigated for possible embezzlement of public funds, having previously been questioned over breach of trust. [nL8N1WS2Z4]

Melenchon, 67, frequently denounces President Emmanuel Macron for backing laws favoring the wealthy and right-wing voters.

A member of the European Parliament from 2009-17, he was eliminated in the first round of the presidential election last year, coming fourth. He said he had nothing to fear from the investigations.

“I’ve asked for all my campaign accounts to be re-examined,” he said, draped in the red-white-and-blue sash of a member of the French lower house, the National Assembly.

“I’m not afraid of anyone. These people can invade my house, my party headquarters and my movement, but they will not scare me. We haven’t stolen anything. We are honest.”

Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by David Stamp