Sunday

22nd Apr 2018

Mediapart: National Front's Kremlin loan is worth €40mn

  • Le Pen: 'Mediapart has lost its head. The amounts it talks about are a total fantasy' (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The far-right French party, the National Front, is in talks with a Kremlin-linked bank to borrow €40 million to win power in France, Mediapart reports.

The Paris-based online investigative journal last weekend said Marine Le Pen’s party received a €9 million loan from the First Czech Russian Bank (FCRB), which is de facto owned by Roman Popov, a Kremlin-connected oligarch.

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But it says in a second report on Wednesday (26 November) the €9 million is the tip of the iceberg.

It notes that its own investigation is corroborated by a member of the Front National’s political bureau.

“The first tranche was paid on a loan of €40 million … the tranche of €9 million has arrived, 31 others will follow,” the source said.

It also cites Bernard Monot, a National Front MEP, who told Mediapart: “We expressed, for sure, a need for comprehensive financing in our discussions with the bank … Our potential need until the [French] presidential and legislative elections [due in 2017] is €45 million”.

“We’re getting there step by step. We’re refining it as we go … We are on a long-term financial package”.

Wallerand de Saint-Just, the National Front's treasurer, said he knows nothing about the larger sum.

But he noted the party needs between €35 million and €40 million to contest the 2017 votes.

He added he cannot exclude that larger sums were mentioned by Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, a National Front MEP who negotiated the FRCB deal, in Schaffhauser's contacts with the bank.

Meanwhile, Le Pen herself tweeted on Wednesday evening: “Mediapart has lost its head. The amounts it talks about are a total fantasy. FN got a €9mn loan. Full stop”.

She told AFP the €40 million report is “fantastic, delirious”.

EU blacklist

Mediapart goes on to say that Le Pen personally sealed the FRCB loan on a “secret” trip to Russia in February.

It quotes an unnamed Le Pen aide as saying: “Marine Le Pen came at the final stage [of the negotiations]. Yes. To see where we are putting our feet”.

It notes that Schaffhauser, who was present at the meeting, introduced her to Alexander Babakov, a Russian MP, who was the “key” to the FRCB deal.

The EU blacklisted Babakov in September because he voted Yes on a Russian bill on the annexation of Crimea.

The 51-year old, who was born in Moldova, has business interests in the Czech Republic, France, and Ukraine.

According to documents published by Russian anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, the Russian MP owns at least €11 million of real estate in France via his wife, Irina Babakova.

According to Czech media, he was also the co-founder of a Czech-based shell company, Albion CZ, which was liquidated in June.

Conflict of interest?

Schaffhauser told Mediapart he met Babakov 10 years ago through the Russian Orthodox Church.

“I knew he was wealthy. But I’m not interested in his fortune. He’s someone with whom I share the same vision”, the MEP said.

Babakov’s declaration of financial interests in the Russian Duma is much smaller than the Navalny documents indicate.

Schaffhauser’s declaration in the European Parliament notes that he works as an “international consultant”.

It doesn't mention that FRCB paid him a €140,000 fee for his work as a go-between.

He told other French media the bank paid him in September via an entity in Luxembourg, which he declined to identify.

He told Mediapart: “If there is a conflict of interest, it’s for the European Parliament to decide.”

“I don’t see any conflict of interest just because I continued my professional activities. It’s normal that I use my professional skills. I was a consultant. Do you think I would abandon my clients from one day to the next?”.

Tip of the iceberg II

The National Front revelations come amid multiplying reports of Kremlin ties to anti-EU far-right parties.

German tabloid Bild on Monday cited German intelligence sources as saying Russia is financing the eurosceptic AfD party.

It said the Kremlin used middlemen to sell gold to AfD at below-market prices without AfD’s knowledge of who was behind the transactions.

The left-wing SPO party in Austria has also accused the far-right FPO of receiving Russian money.

AfD and FPO denied the claims. But their Kremlin links were on display this week in meetings in Berlin and Moscow.

A top AfD member went to a friends-of-Russia congress at a Berlin hotel organised by Vladimir Yakunin, a US-blacklsited Kremlin confidante.

Top FPO members went to a seminar in Moscow chaired by Russian FM Sergei Lavrov on the “the crisis of confidence in Europe”.

In Hungary and Latvia, authorities are investigating accusations that two pro-Russia parties - Jobbik and Latvijas Krievu savieniba - received Kremlin money.

The National Front, the FPO, and Bulgaria’s far-right Ataka party also went to a pro-Russia congress in Vienna in May.

The FPO, the National Front, Latvijas Krievu savieniba, and Ataka sent MEP “monitors” to lend legitimacy to separatist votes in Russia-occupied Crimea and Donetsk in Ukraine.

The Italian and Belgian rightist parties Forza Italia, Lega Nord, and Vlaams Belang, as well as two anti-EU far-left parties - Germany’s Die Linke and Greece’s KKE - also sent observers.

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