French judges ask the EU to lift Le Pen’s immunity

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French prosecutors have asked the European parliament to lift the immunity of Marine Le Pen over an expenses scandal, deepening her legal woes on the eve of a presidential election shaping up as a tight four-way race.

The prosecutors’ move comes just nine days before France heads to the polls in a highly unpredictable vote marked by widespread disillusionment with the traditional political class.

Le Pen, who heads the far-right National Front (FN), is leading the race with independent centrist Emmanuel Macron but polls show Communist-backed eurosceptic Jean-Luc Melenchon and scandal-hit conservative Francois Fillon closing the gap.

An Ipsos poll for the daily Le Monde out Friday showed Macron and Le Pen on 22 percent for the first round, both down two points in under a week.

Melenchon continued a spectacular surge, polling 20 percent, just one point ahead of Fillon, who has been regaining ground lost to a fake jobs investigation.

The poll echoed a raft of surveys this week showing the four top contenders bunching together, creating six possible line-ups in the May 7 run-off of the top two candidates.

The slight dip in Le Pen’s poll numbers came as French prosecutors said they had petitioned the European Parliament to lift her immunity so that she can be prosecuted over an expenses scandal.

Le Pen last month invoked her parliamentary immunity in refusing to attend questioning by investigating magistrates.

On Friday, she shrugged off the prosecutors’ move.

“It’s a totally normal step, I’m not surprised,” said the 48-year-old member of the European Parliament, who sees the investigation as a plot to derail her presidential bid.

The case against Le Pen has been dwarfed by the bigger scandal engulfing Fillon.

Former prime minister Fillon was revealed in January to have given his wife suspected fake jobs as a parliamentary assistant for which she was paid a total 680,000 euros.

The affair, which culminated with the former “Mister Clean” of the French right being formally charged last month, plunged his campaign into turmoil but in the past few weeks he has climbed back into contention.

“Of course Francois Fillon can win,” his spokesman Luc Chatel said Friday, adding: “People are starting to believe again.”

Edging him in some polls is hard-left eurosceptic Melenchon, famous for his mass rallies and fiery speeches.

Surveys show Le Pen would be beaten by any of the other three main contenders in a run-off, but analysts have warned of a possible upset, after Britain’s shock vote to quit the EU and Donald Trump’s election in the United States, both of which pollsters failed to predict.

The European Parliament accuses the FN of using funds allotted for parliamentary assistants to pay FN staff for party work in France. In February, the assembly began withholding part of Le Pen’s pay to recover the money it says it lost to the alleged fraud.

Prosecutors also petitioned the parliament to lift the immunity of Le Pen’s colleague, fellow National Front MEP Marie-Christine Boutonnet.

Le Pen, who has pledged to put France’s EU membership to a referendum if elected, has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

In a TV debate last week, Ford worker Philippe Poutou, candidate of the New Anticapitalist Party tore into her.

“For someone who is anti-European, she doesn’t mind having her fingers in Europe’s till,” he said.

Investigators raided the FN’s headquarters outside Paris last month over the affair.

Le Pen’s chief of staff Catherine Griset and Charles Hourcade, previously a graphic designer at FN headquarters, were charged with concealment.

Le Pen has already had her parliamentary immunity lifted over a separate affair dating to 2015 when she shared graphic pictures of Islamic State atrocities on Twitter.

The pictures triggered an investigation for “dissemination of violent images”.

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