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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Wednesday, January 24, 2018

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French presidential candidate Le Pen embroiled in scandal

As rival Macron makes massive strides in Presidential race

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PARIS, France - French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen suffered a blow after her chief of staff and bodyguard became the subject of a formal judicial investigation into whether they were paid by Le Pen for fake European Parliament jobs.> BNN

The presidential hopeful has been accused of paying her chief of staff and bodyguard using illicit funds from the European Parliament. 

She is now being pushed by the assembly to pay back the amount.

On Wednesday, reports stated that Catherine Griset, Le Pen's long-time chief of staff, was charged with breach of trust in a probe into allegations the candidate's National Front (FN) party defrauded the European Parliament of about 340,000 euros.

Griset and Le Pen’s personal bodyguard, Thierry Légier were questioned by French anti-graft police earlier, over suspicions that the FN misused public funds.

However, Légier was released without charges, but Griset is now said to be facing further legal scrutiny.

Earlier in the week, police even raided the FN's Nanterre headquarters for a second time.

The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) said Le Pen initially admitted Catherine Griset and Thierry Legier had been paid for fake jobs. 

She later claimed she had never said so, and continued to remain adamant on the matter on Wednesday.

"If this situation amuses the magistrates," she said. "The thing I find the most surprising is that an investigating judge is supposed to be taking care of the case. Why is it necessary to lead another inquiry? Because this file is empty."

"The French know exactly how to tell the difference between real affairs and political cabals," she added.

Two recent polls on Thursday showed Le Pen remained the favorite to win the first round of the presidential election but would be defeated in the May 7 runoff against either the center-right's Francois Fillon or centrist Emmanuel Macron.

Le Pen will, however, have benefited from her recent refusal to wear a headscarf during a meeting with Lebanon's grand mufti, as a result of which the meeting was cancelled.

The largely symbolic gesture is expected to resonate with core right-wing voters.

Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, has bagged the support of key centrist Francois Bayrou, who announced his alliance with the presidential candidate to counter the "major threat" posed by the far-right.

A former education minister, Bayrou, has run for president three times and in 2012, he polled 9 percent of the vote.

Explaining that the French democracy was under threat, Bayrou reportedly said that the conservatives under Fillon were riddled with scandals and the Socialists were in disarray. 

He said the situation could pave the way for the far-right.

Bayrou said, “We are in an extremely risky situation, and to tackle this exceptional situation, I think we need an exceptional response.”

Adding, “What's at stake with this alliance is to restore hope.”

Addressing a press conference, he said his decision not to run for president himself was a “sacrifice” and added, “I have decided to offer Emmanuel Macron an alliance. The danger is too big, we must change things.”

Macron meanwhile, said in a statement that he accepted Bayrou's offer and labelled it a "turning point in the campaign.”

Reports noted that Bayrou's announcement pushed the euro up against the dollar and French bond yields.

Bayrou was however, scheduled to hold talks with Macron to set down conditions for supporting him. 

One of the conditions, expected to be laid down by Bayrou, is passing a law against conflicts of interest and introducing proportional voting in the lower house of parliament.

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