Marine Le Pen. Picture REUTERS/PHILIPPE WOJAZER
Marine Le Pen. Picture REUTERS/PHILIPPE WOJAZER

Paris — French investigators on Monday searched the headquarters of the National Front (FN) as part of a probe into whether far-right party leader Marine Le Pen used European Parliament money to pay for jobs related to domestic politics.

In a statement, the party characterised the search as "a media operation whose only goal is to disrupt the smooth operation of" Le Pen’s presidential campaign "at a moment when she’s made major advances in the polls".

The European Parliament has ordered Le Pen to repay the amount, estimating the improper payments at €336,146. She has refused to give the money back, saying the jobs were not fictitious, and has appealed against the decision. French prosecutors who got a report from the EU’s anti-fraud office, Olaf, have opened a legal probe of their own.

A year ago, the FN’s offices in Nanterre, a few kilometres west of Paris, were raided as part of the same probe opened by Paris prosecutors in March 2015.

Meanwhile, Monday’s daily OpinionWay poll showed that first-round support the for anti-euro, anti-immigration Le Pen rose 1 percentage point to 27%, with independent Emmanuel Macron and Republican Francois Fillon unchanged at 20% each.

The premium investors demand to hold French bonds instead of German debt rose to its highest since late 2012 after a poll showed Le Pen’s gains.

Renewed selling in French bonds rippled through euro zone bond markets, helping to push yields on short-dated, safe-haven German bonds to a record low, although the impact faded as the day wore on, reports said.

While no survey so far has shown Le Pen even close to a victory in the run-off, she has quickly narrowing the gap to her rivals. OpinionWay showed Macron would defeat Le Pen by 58% to 42% in the May 7 second round. His advantage has halved in less than two weeks.

Le Pen is not the only candidate with legal issues. Fillon is being probed over whether his wife actually worked while she was on the French parliament’s payroll.

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