Russian ties haunt far-right candidate Le Pen

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Marine Le Pen, the far-right French Rassemblement National party, candidate for the 2022 French presidential election.

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The leader of France’s nationalist and far-right political party, Marine Le Pen, has seen her momentum stall ahead of Sunday’s vote, with her previous ties to Russia resurfacing in recent days.

Le Pen won 23.1% of the vote in the first round of France’s April 10 election – coming second and earning him a place in the final round of voting on Sunday against incumbent President Emmanuel Macron, who got 27.8 % voices.

Macron’s showdown with Le Pen is a repeat of the 2017 election, but this time around early polls suggest she has a better chance of defeating him.

But, in a key televised debate on Wednesday against Macron, Le Pen was accused of being “dependent” on Russia and political commentators said she had not delivered major blows to the French president. A poll released on Thursday suggested Macron would win the second round with 55% of the vote, with Le Pen at 45%.

During her election campaign, Le Pen’s team was said to have thrown out thousands of campaign leaflets that included a photo of her shaking hands with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. His team said a typographical error caused the scrapping, not the photo.

Macron told Le Pen during the two-hour debate on Wednesday: “When you talk to Russia, you talk to your banker,” according to the translation. In 2014, Le Pen’s party (the National Front, now renamed the National Rally) reportedly sought loans from Russian banks, including the First Czech Russian Bank, a lender believed to have ties to the Kremlin. Le Pen refuted the charges on Wednesday, saying, “I am a completely free woman.”

She added that her team repaid the loans every month and only borrowed from Russian banks because no French lenders would lend money to her party.

Earlier this week, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny – in prison since returning to Russia last year after being treated for a poisoning attack – urged French voters to support Macron and alleged that Le Pen was too closely tied to Russia. Macron’s finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, also warned against Le Pen’s policies on Thursday, telling CNBC’s Charlotte Reed that France would seek to pull out of Europe if it came first on Sunday.

Mujtaba Rahman, chief executive of consulting firm Eurasia Group, told CNBC on Friday that Le Pen had managed to escape scrutiny heading into the first round of voting, “mainly because the campaign was so short and that Zemmour [a far-right politician who also ran in the first round] made her seem more subdued”

However, he said the level of media scrutiny ahead of the second round “has increased”, including on his ties to Russia.

Le Pen met Russian President Vladimir Putin face-to-face in 2017 ahead of that year’s presidential vote in France. She also supported some of Russia’s foreign policies, including the decision to invade Ukrainian Crimea in 2014 – arguing it was not illegal because the people of Crimea chose to join Russia in a referendum . Western nations and the Ukrainian government ruled the 2014 vote illegal.

In 2017, she also told the BBC that the policies she championed were also represented by former US President Donald Trump and Putin.

Earlier this year, as Russia expanded its military presence near the border with Ukraine, Le Pen said she saw Moscow as an ally of France and did not believe Russia wanted to invade the country. ‘Ukraine.

Since the invasion of the Kremlin, Le Pen has hailed France’s support for Ukrainian refugees. But she also criticized some of the sanctions imposed on Moscow, arguing that the measures harm French businesses and individuals.

Wednesday’s debate “will go down in history as a successful attempt to challenge the democratic legitimacy of Le Pen’s party,” Alberto Alemanno, a professor of European law at HEC Paris Business School, said in an email. Macron’s attack on Le Pen’s financial ties to Putin’s Russia.

“It should capture the public imagination, indissolubly associating a vote for Marine Le Pen with Putin’s Russia. of Macron,” he added.

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