French far-right leader Marine Le Pen hits back at 'smear' as EU accuses her Front National party of £5m fraud

If the accusations of illegal payments are proved, the popular but cash-strapped Eurosceptic party might have to refund as much as €7.5m to Brussels

The French far-right Front National party faces prosecution for an alleged multi-million euro fraud on European taxpayers.

An investigation has been launched by the EU anti-fraud agency into the claimed illegal payment of senior officials in the Front National with cash provided to run the offices of MEPs. At least 29 people listed as “assistants” to the 23 FN MEPs work exclusively in the party’s headquarters near Paris and rarely set foot in Brussels or Strasbourg, it is claimed.

If the accusations are proved, Marine Le Pen’s popular but cash-strapped Eurosceptic and anti-immigrant party might have to refund as much as €7.5m (£5.3m) to Brussels. Senior party officials could also face prosecution in France for embezzlement and fraud.

Ms Le Pen dismissed the allegations as a political manoeuvre timed to “smear” the FN before local elections  this month in which her party is predicted to score heavily. She announced that she would bring a counterclaim for “false denunciation”.

The party’s vice-president Florian Philippot accused the German Socialist President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, of making the accusations at the request of France’s Socialist Prime Minister, Manuel Valls. Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, Ms Le Pen’s niece and a rising star within the party, said the FN was the “victim of political bullying”.

The accusations are unlikely to damage the party’s prospects in this month’s local elections but they threaten financial and legal embarrassment for Ms Le Pen and other party leaders.

Former President Jacques Chirac was given a suspended jail sentence in 2010 after being found guilty of a similar crime – putting his centre-right party officials on the Paris town hall payroll.