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Le Pen's chief of staff under formal investigation

Le Pen's chief of staff under formal investigation
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By Catherine Hardy with Reuters
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Judicial sources say Catherine Griset had been questioned in connection with a fraud inquiry along with Le Pen's bodyguard, Thierry Legier, who was later released.

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The chief-of-staff of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has been put under formal investigation as part of an inquiry into the alleged misuse of EU funds to pay parliamentary assistants.

Judicial sources say Catherine Griset had been questioned along with Le Pen’s bodyguard, Thierry Legier, who was later released.

It comes after police searched the FN party headquarters in western Paris on Monday.

The case has landed the Front National leader in the spotlight alongside another leading candidate, Francois Fillon.

The centre-right candidate is being investigated over public funds paid to his wife and two of his children.

#UPDATE Le Pen aide charged in 'fake jobs' scandal: judicial source https://t.co/ASiHy6IYE1

— AFP news agency (@AFP) February 22, 2017

Who has been questioned?

Legier and Griset are key figures in an investigation opened following demands by the European Parliament that Le Pen repay money she is accused of wrongly paying them.

#FRANCE#CatherineGriset et #ThierryLégier, 2 ex-assistants parlementaires de Marine #LePen placés en garde à vuehttps://t.co/4lpzTNMsyj

— Bahiaflâneur (@bahiaflaneur) February 22, 2017

Qui sont Catherine Griset et Thierry Légier, les deux proches de Marine Le Pen placés en garde à vue ? https://t.co/s2GkXdQNsxpic.twitter.com/gQyrIUpeTS

— LCI (@LCI) February 22, 2017

Has there been any comment from Le Pen?

Yes.

Earlier in the day, the Front National leader denounced the arrests.

Conscious of her image and poll position, Le Pen said she is convinced voters will not fall for what her lawyer has called a “manipulation designed to destabilise her.”

“The French can tell the difference between genuine scandals and political dirty-tricks,” Le Pen told reporters while on a visit to Meaux. She has denied any wrongdoing.

One of her lawyers also denounced what he says is the “political instrumentalisation” of the legal system.

“The searches on Monday took place while Marine Le Pen was in Lebanon, a fact of which the authorities were well aware,” said Marcel Ceccaldi.

“It was an attempt to get around her parliamentary immunity and, is in fact, an attack on her right to the free exercise of power as head of a political organisation.”

Maître Marcel Ceccaldi, l’avocat de Marine Le Pen a un sacré pédigrée et pas très anti et hors-système… https://t.co/iBnWImtafZ

— Bertrand Soulier (@BertrandSoulier) February 22, 2017

Why is this happening now?

The inquiry has stepped up a gear since last week.

Parts of an EU fraud inquiry report were leaked to the French media and then passed on to the French authorities.

An inquiry had been launched on the 15th of December into a range of charges connected to the FN’s employment of parliamentary assistants.

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