Le Pen wanted millions more from Russia
Revelations that Marine Le Pen tried to borrow a further €3 million from Russia pose questions on Kremlin interference in the French election.
Mediapart, a French investigative website, revealed on Friday (31 March) that Le Pen, the French anti-EU and far-right candidate, agreed to borrow the funds in order to finance her campaign.
The website published an internal document of her National Front party, showing that she and party chiefs on 15 June last year decided to borrow €3 million from Strategy Bank in Russia at an interest rate of 6 percent per year to be repaid in 2018.
It said the “purpose of the borrowed money” was “financing the electoral campaign”.
Mediapart also published a second National Front document, which said the funds were to be used for election “expenses” and were to be wired to a bank account opened in Le Pen’s name.
Le Pen, whose surprise meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Moscow last week caused a stir, declined to comment.
The party’s treasurer, Wallerand de Saint-Just, who told press last week that Le Pen was not asking Putin for more money, told Mediapart that the €3 million loan was “just a project, which did not have any follow-up”.
Mediapart did not say whether the National Front received the money and did not give information about Strategy Bank.
The revelations come after Le Pen and her father admitted last year to having previously borrowed €11 million from different Russian sources.
Fears of Russian election-meddling in Europe were heightened after Moscow was accused of having swayed the outcome of the US vote via hacking and disinformation.
Le Pen is neck-and-neck in polls with the centrist, pro-EU candidate Emmanuel Macron for the first round of the presidential vote on 23 April.
He has been targeted by Russian hackers and accused of being secretly gay, an agent of US banks, and of being an agent of Saudi Arabia in French-language Russian media.
Speaking to EUobserver in an interview on Thursday, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian former oil chief who was jailed after trying to enter politics, said Putin saw Le Pen as a “realistic chance to destroy the EU”.
Even if the EU could politically survive France leaving the bloc, as Le Pen wants it to, Khodorkovsky added that a French EU exit would, for Putin, mean that “the EU would have no more nuclear weapons”.
France and the UK, the latter of which started EU exit talks this week, are the only nuclear-armed EU countries.
Frans Timmermans, the Dutch EU commissioner, also told the Spanish parliament on Thursday that Putin was using far-right parties to harm the EU.
“The reason why Putin supports the extreme right in Europe is because it weakens us and divides us,” he said.
“A divided Europe means that Putin is the boss,” he added.
Putin told press in Moscow that his meeting with Le Pen was not an attempt to interfere in France.
He also denied US election-meddling at a meeting with the Finnish and Icelandic presidents in Russia on Thursday.
Putin said that US intelligence services made the accusation for the sake domestic politics.
“So what do we want to achieve? To terminate our diplomatic relations completely? To drive the situation to the level that it was at in the 1960s during the Cuban missile crisis? And where next?” he said at the meeting in Arkhangelsk, in north-west Russia.
Sauli Niinisto, the Finnish president, said it was wrong to think that global tension was increasing.
“Very many of my European Union colleagues [are] visiting Moscow ... the dialogue is increasing, and that’s not tension, that’s getting rid of tensions”, he said.
Niinisto offered to convene a summit of Arctic leaders at which Putin could meet the new US president, Donald Trump, for the first time in a bid to lower tensions further.
The Danish and Norwegian foreign ministers also participated in the Arkhangelsk meeting.