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Le Pen senior fined for defending Nazis

Verdict is embarrassment for daughter as she runs for presidency as National Front candidate

An old attempt by the former far right leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, to minimise Nazi atrocities returned yesterday to haunt his daughter's presidential election campaign.

A French appeal court gave Mr Le Pen, 83, a suspended jail sentence and a €10,000 (£8,300) fine for saying in 2005 that the German occupation of France was "not particularly inhumane".

Mr Le Pen, founder of the far right National Front, said that he would appeal against his conviction to the highest court in France for a second time. "We are talking about a sanctified area of opinion here," he said. "If you mention the Second World War [in France], you're not allowed to have a moderate opinion." He also suggested that the timing of the ruling had been influenced by "the system" to damage his daughter's election chances.

Mr Le Pen's youngest daughter, Marine, 43, has tried to "de-demonise" the NF since she succeeded her father as leader of the party early last year. She is running in the presidential election this spring with what she hopes is more modern, ultra-nationalist message, less obsessed with the the past.

Last month, Marine Le Pen, described "Nazism" as an "abomination" – a word that her father would never have used. In 2005, in an interview with a far-right magazine, Rivarol, he suggested that the Nazi occupation of France had been relatively benign.

He also disputed the traditional version of a massacre of 86 civilians by SS troops at Villeneuve-D'Ascq near Lille in March 1944 – one of a number of similar slaughters by SS troops in France that year. Among other things, Mr Le Pen said that the German occupation "in France at least... was not particularly inhumane. There were a few lapses but that is inevitable in a country 550,000 kilometres square."

Charges were brought against Mr Le Pen for "denying war crimes" and "denying crimes against humanity". He was convicted of both offences in 2008 but an appeal court ruling in 2009 decided that he was guilty only of "denying crimes against humanity".

Mr Le Pen appealed to the Cour de Cassation, France's highest appeal court, which ordered in April last year that he should be re-tried last December. His conviction was confirmed by the Paris appeal court yesterday. Mr Le Pen said he was "not surprised this ruling has come in the middle of the election period. The system has things well in hand."

The founder, and honorary-president-for-life, of the National Front has played very little part in his daughter's campaign. Marine Le Pen has angered many hardliners by purging overt racists and anti-Semites and moving the party towards a "nationalist-leftist" position.

She has also attempted to move away from her father's tribal obsession with the past and his serial tendency to apologise for Nazism and the Vichy collaborationist regime in France.

In an interview with The Independent in September 2010, she said that, if she had been alive in 1940, she would have supported the Resistance and the Free French forces of General Charles de Gaulle.