France's Le Pen got loan from Hungarian bank close to Orban -filing

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Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National) party and candidate for the 2022 French presidential election, visits the 58th International Agriculture Fair (Salon de l'Agriculture) at the Porte de Versailles exhibition center in Paris, France, March 2, 2022. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/File Photo

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PARIS, March 10 (Reuters) - French far-right presidential challenger Marine Le Pen received a 10.7 million euro ($11.8 million) loan for her campaign from Hungary's MKB Bank, whose major shareholders include businessmen close to nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The personal loan was disclosed on a form that presidential candidates must submit to regulators about their personal assets and debts, and was made public this week.

Le Pen and her Rassemblement National (RN) party have for years struggled to raise loans from French banks, even as she has sought to de-demonize a party viewed during the leadership of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, as racist and xenophobic.

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"This loan was obtained in a very difficult context of tightening campaign financing rules and the reluctance of banks to finance the democratic life of our country," RN President Jordan Bardella wrote to party officials when details of a loan from a then-undisclosed European bank emerged last month.

MKB, state-owned Budapest Bank and savings group Takarekbank sealed a merger in 2020 to form Hungary's second-largest banking group. MKB and the Hungarian government did not respond to emailed requests for comment. Calls to Le Pen's spokesperson went unanswered.

Le Pen has long sought a broader alliance of Europe's far-right movements and has visited Orban in Hungary many times. The pair last met in Madrid in January, and in October Le Pen hailed the Hungarian leader's "courage" in the face of the European Union's "ideological brutality".

In 2017, Le Pen said she was the victim of a "banking fatwa" in France after two banks, Societe Generale and Credit du Nord, closed accounts belonging to her and her party. The banks at the time said they had acted within regulatory requirements but gave no further details.

Her party came under scrutiny during the 2017 presidential campaign for a 9 million euro ($9.95 million) loan it received in 2014 from a now-defunct Russian bank. At the time the party was called the Front Nationale (National Front).

Le Pen is polling in second place and is the favourite to face frontrunner, incumbent President Emmanuel Macron, in a second-round runoff of next month's election.

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Reporting by Krisztina Than in Budapest and Richard Lough in Paris, editing by Mark Heinrich

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