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Far-right leader's aides named in Panama Papers scandal
Aides to French far-right leader Marine Le Pen put in place a "sophisticated offshore system" to hide money, Le Monde newspaper reported on Tuesday in the latest disclosure from the Panama Papers.
The aim of the system, which sent funds to Hong Kong, Singapore, the British Virgin Islands and Panama, was "to get money out of France, through shell companies and false invoices, to evade French anti-money-laundering authorities," Le Monde reported.
Get money out of France
One of the key figures in the system set up by the National Front (FN) is Frederic Chatillon, head of a company called Riwal which carried out communications work for some of the party's candidates, the report said.
"In 2012, just after the presidential election, Frederic Chatillon made arrangements to withdraw 316,000 euros from Riwal and to move it out of France," Le Monde said.
The money then took a complex route, involving the acquisition of a Hong Kong-based shell company called Time Dragon, whose parent company is in the British Virgin Islands and overseen by Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm at the centre of the Panama Papers.
Chatillon said late Monday the system was "perfectly legal". The FN itself had said on Monday that it was "not implicated in the Panama papers".
Chatillon under investigation
Chatillon was arrested in January 2015 on charges of fraud and money laundering in the funding of Le Pen’s 2012 presidential bid, but he insists the new revelations do not concern Riwal’s work with the FN.
“The question [the Panama Papers leaks] raise is whether the money sent out of France was made through Le Pen’s campaign,” said Marine Turchi, an investigative reporter with French news site Mediapart, which covered Chatillon’s arrest.
“Le Monde notes the transfer happened between the presidential and legislative elections of 2012, even if Mr. Chatillon insists the money is not revenue from the company’s work on the National Front campaign.”
High-ranking party officials have are also distancing themselves from what they say are Chatillon’s private affairs and say Le Monde is seeking to tarnish the FN’s image.
“These are the affairs of Frédéric Chatillon, not of the FN or of Marine Le Pen,” said party treasurer Wallerand de Saint Just. “Any political party that has hundreds of people working with it can possibly attract individuals who make a few mistakes, but that does not mean the party is involved.”
No legal officials have made any comment whether the revelations brought anything to the investigation into campaign funding.
Front National concerns
But at very least, the party’s reaction and the way it is distancing itself from Chatillon suggest it is concerned about the effect the story could have on its image.
“[The FN] always say they are the only honest party in France, the ones who do not have anything to do with the so-called ‘system’,” says Jean-Yves Camus, director of French research group the Observatory of Radical Politics.
“A segment of their voters may say, ‘We believed this was a different kind of party and this was the reason we voted for Marine Le Pen, and now we discover we are just like all the rest,’” Camus says. “I do not think it will be devastating, because there are still many reasons that voters cast ballots for Le Pen, but it is still very embarrassing.”
The FN itself had said Monday it was "not implicated in the Panama Papers".
Marine Le Pen, who took over the leadership of the FN from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, is aiming to run for the French presidency in elections next year.