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Fraud, Russian Interests Overshadow France’s National Front

December 10, 2015

By Jett Goldsmith

France’s far-right National Front calls for French unity and strength. But the party’s history reveals a much deeper web of foreign interests and fraud, which threaten to compromise its entire doctrine.

National Front leader Marine Le Pen meets with Russian State Duma chairman Sergei Naryshkin in Moscow, January 2014

National Front leader Marine Le Pen meets with Russian State Duma chairman Sergei Naryshkin in Moscow, January 2014

By Jett Goldsmith

Marine Le Pen’s French far-right party, the National Front, has experienced its most successful period in party history. Regional elections placed the party in 1st place with 28% of all votes, and various polls have shown Marine Le Pen leading the first round of 2017 presidential elections.

The National Front’s recent victories – doubtless a result of panic and hysteria caused by recent refugee crises, increased liberalization of the European Union, and various terror threats across France and Europe – overshadow its second most prosperous period in history, under Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie. The party has secured a portion of the electorate at least 20% larger than in the 1986 legislative elections, where it won 35 seats in the National Assembly.

For much of its history under Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Front pursued a doctrine of nationalism, anti-immigration, and xenophobia. Although holding a marginal and almost irrelevant position in French politics, the elder leader secured a consistent voting base through use of inflammatory remarks and policy motions. Jean-Marie Le Pen expressed a certain admiration for the Nazi occupation of France, and even downplayed the Holocaust by questioning the death count of Jews in gas chambers – a statement for which he received nearly €183,000 in fines under the 1990 Gayssot Act.

But following an internal shakeup leading to Jean-Marie Le Pen’s departure as party president in 2011, his daughter took the reigns, and immediately pursued a policy of normalization and public relations designed to fix the National Front’s image throughout France.

Under Marine Le Pen, the National Front has rebuked many of its extreme policies, instead favoring a more measured approach to public politics. But despite Le Pen’s shakeups, the National Front remains one of the strongest proponents of nationalism and far-right values in France.

Like most European nationalist parties, Le Pen’s National Front claims to support the interests of France. It seeks a return to national unity, general economic and social isolationism, and de-globalization, and harshly critiques the globalist policies of the European Union as degrading the integrity of France.

A National Front poster circulated under Jean-Marie Le Pen, using Charles De Gaulle's image to insist that immigrants remain marginalized. "We are, at the end of the day, a European people with a white race, a Greek and Roman culture, and a Christian religion."

A National Front poster circulated under Jean-Marie Le Pen, using Charles De Gaulle’s image to insist that immigrants remain marginalized. “We are, at the end of the day, a European people with a white race, a Greek and Roman culture, and a Christian religion.”

But despite these strong statements of French unity and nationalism, the National Front has conflicting interests – interests which threaten the party’s integrity, and the core of its message.

The party has faced investigation numerous times, both under Le Pen and her father, for campaign finance issues and fraud.

In March of 2015, the European Parliament launched an investigation into the National Front’s financial dealings over allegations that it had illegally paid €7.5 million to parliamentary assistants without the knowledge of the European Union. Le Pen quickly hit back, claiming that she would file a “formal complaint” as a result of the Parliament’s investigation into her party.

In September of 2015, it was announced that the National Front would face charges of electoral fraud and misuse of assets over allegations that the party defrauded the state by inflating campaign expenses for its 2012 elections. Again, the National Front pleaded its innocence, but French prosecutors are moving forward with the case.

Most concerning, however, are the National Front’s – and Marine Le Pen’s – ideological, fiscal, and political connections to the Russian Federation.

Since seizing power in 2011, Le Pen has pursued a subtle policy of Russian alignment. She is strongly outspoken in her support of President Vladimir Putin, and critical of what she calls the West’s “demonization” of Russia.

“I am surprised a Cold War on Russia has been declared in the European Union,” she told colleagues at the meeting [with Duma speaker Naryshkin]. “It’s not in line with traditional, friendly relations or with the economic interests of our country or EU countries and harms future relations.”

Le Pen has also been outspoken in her support of Russia’s role in Syria, and of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

“Russia’s actions in Syria these days show precisely what France should be doing. In other words, to spearhead the initiatives being taken in relation to that country,” Le Pen said. “Whatever criticism may be addressed to Bashar Assad, his government is the real one and it protects the country from IS barbarity.”

Earlier, Le Pen expressed her strong disapproval of any French action in Syria. “The interests of France are not affected, therefore we should not intervene,” she was quoted as saying in an interview with French news weekly L’Express.

The National Front’s connection to Russia is more than just political. In late 2014, the party received an $11.7 million loan from the Moscow-based First Czech-Russian Bank, while around the same time Le Pen’s father received a $2.5 million loan from a former K.G.B. agent – Yuri Kudimov – who formerly ran VEB Capital, the financing arm of the Kremlin.

It’s little coincidence that Russian financing of the National Front – and the party’s alignment with the Kremlin – came just months prior to campaigns for the 2015 French departmental elections. Russia has pursued a furiously aggressive foreign policy in recent years, culminating in two major geopolitical moves: the invasion of Crimea and military support for Assad in Syria’s bloody civil war. Putin has motioned to secure his power base both at home and abroad, and has expanded Russian foreign interests on an almost unprecedented scale since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Now, Putin is playing European politics, and his alignment with Le Pen and the National Front represents a larger attempt by the state to gain supporters in a Western sphere of influence laden with anti-Russian sentiment and hostility.

Putin’s support of the National Front comes at a convenient time for Russia, as well. Amid European and U.S. sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Crimea, which have plunged the country into a painful economic recession, Putin is struggling to find allies and alleviate the threat of Western pressure towards Russian interests.

But Russian interests don’t necessarily align with the interests of the European Union, and Putin’s support of the National Front exposes a latent hypocrisy behind the party’s core values of nationalism and unity.

Like her father before her, Le Pen is disinterested in the message her party sends to the French people, and French voters should be wary of the her campaign promises and domestic political propaganda. While Le Pen preaches a certain message of nationalism at home, her involvement with Putin and Russian interests give way to a more dangerous message: the National Front is willing to do business with the Russian state, and more than happy to serve as a French bureau for Putin’s complex agenda.

As Putin pursues a policy of backdoor diplomacy with the European opposition, Le Pen and others may soon see their values hijacked by a foreign state with no interest in European unity – and in fact, no interest in European strength. And if Le Pen continues her fervent support of Russia, she may ultimately see her party – whether in power or not – become a rather willing hostage to Putin’s anti-EU, anti-humanitarian policy abroad.

Jett Goldsmith

Jett Goldsmith is a journalist from Denver, Colorado. He formerly co-founded the investigative reporting and geopolitical analysis outlet Conflict News, and writes at length on Ba'athist state structures and various actors within the Syrian conflict. He has bylines in various publications, including Middle East Eye. You can follow him on Twitter: @JettGoldsmith.

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49 Comments

  1. Randy Dread

    Franck – December 12th, 2015
    [sorry all my links are in french]
    Hello Randy, yes it’s true. But stop immigration is not the problem.

    How would stopping mass immigration from the third world and the middle east not be a big benefit for French people?

    Reply
  2. John Zenwirt

    CALAIS, France — “French voters turned out in droves Sunday to prevent a surging anti-establishment, anti-immigration party from capturing regional office, a week after the once-fringe group shocked many by leading the nationwide vote in the first round of elections.”

    “Tonight we are not really relieved. The danger of the extreme right has not been eliminated,” said Prime Minister Manuel Valls, a center-left Socialist. “All of this forces us to listen to the French more, and to act relentlessly, more quickly.”

    “Sunday’s poor results notwithstanding, the National Front’s policies have already reshaped French political life and sharpened skepticism about France’s mostly Muslim immigrants…”

    http://tinyurl.com/zsge77b (WashPost)

    Reply
  3. Randy Dread

    Meanwhile:

    Alexander Marquardt ‏@MarquardtA 2h2 hours ago
    Kerry in Moscow: “The United States and our partners are not seeking regime change in Syria.”

    Yes that’s right, you little bitches. Not what you were saying a month ago.

    Reply
    • clay

      …….before immediately adding that the U.S. continues to believe that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has no possibility of remaining the country’s leader in the future.

      Reply
    • clay

      …..However, Kerry said the talks didn’t focus on “what can or can’t be done immediately about Assad” but rather on establishing a political process where Syrians will be able to choose their own leader.

      Reply
  4. John Zenwirt

    The Obama Admin. has a weak foreign policy. 1st., chemical weapons were out, then in, maybe…? Other red lines were crossed and re-crossed, as the feckless President stumbles along.

    When even vova’s Tin-Pot 3rd world regime beats you to the punch, time and time again, you’re in trouble you created…

    Kerry’s a coward before Putin…

    Reply
  5. John Zenwirt

    PARIS (AP) — A French watchdog that checks he probity of public figures has asked the prosecutor’s office to look into the far right’s top two figures – Jean-Marie Le Pen and Marine Le Pen – after concluding that they may have underestimated their real estate assets.”

    “The High Authority for the Transparency of Public Life said on Monday that its examination of the declarations of the pair led to a “serious doubt about the exhaustiveness, the exactitude and the sincerity” of the files.”

    http://tinyurl.com/j7b6tef (AP)

    Reply
  6. John Zenwirt

    Paris (AFP) – A French financial body said Monday it had alerted prosecutors to the “undervalued” assets declaration of far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen and her father Jean-Marie Le Pen.”

    “There is a serious doubt about the comprehensiveness, accuracy and sincerity of their declarations owing to the obvious undervaluation of real estate assets” held by the two Le Pens, the High Authority for Transparency in Public Life said in a statement.”

    “The body also mentions the failure of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the firebrand founder of the far-right party, to declare certain property.”

    http://tinyurl.com/zv7tjq3 (YahooNews)

    Reply
  7. Ed

    Pfff, this piece is a bit political, in my view… How many parties are US aligned? Is that bad too then? Or is it okay to have national interests intermingled with another country, if that other country happens to be the US? I do not wish to justify Russia’s annexation of Crimea, but let’s not forget that the US, too, has willfully destabilized democratic countries.

    Furthermore, the article makes it seem as if, per default, it’s wrong to have an anti-EU stance. The whole point of a sovereign democracy is, as far as I’m aware, that there is space for different opinions.

    Reply

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