European Union lawmakers have started the procedure to lift French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s immunity over alleged misuse of EU funds.
French judges last week called on European lawmakers to remove the National Front (FN) leader’s immunity to further investigations into alleged misuse of EU money to pay national party assistants.
This step marks the formal beginning of the procedure. However, Le Pen will not be summoned before next week’s run-off vote in France.
Le Pen, who staunchly opposes the EU, is campaigning for the May 7 run-off, after coming second at Sunday’s first round.
She has denounced legal proceedings against her as political interference.
As both a member of the European Parliament and the FN presidential candidate, Le Pen employs staff members whose roles are either connected to domestic or European politics. However, European lawmakers are strictly prohibited from spending European money on their domestic political duties.
In addition to the case over misused EU funds, the parliament is also assessing whether to strip Le Pen of her immunity for a separate investigation on defamation.
Parliament officials said a hearing on her pending cases, initially penciled for next week, was postponed due to the heavy legislative agenda of the legal affairs committee, which oversees cases of immunity suspension. Le Pen could have decided not to attend.
It takes usually several months for the parliament to decide on immunity waivers. Most cases have resulted in the lawmakers under investigation being stripped of their immunity.
The EU legislature removed Le Pen’s immunity in March in relation to another French investigation over her posting of pictures of Islamic State violence on social media, an offense that in France can carry a penalty of three years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros.
EU lawmakers have also already sanctioned Le Pen for misspending EU funds. They want her to reimburse 300,000 euros. Since February, her monthly salary as an EU lawmaker has been cut by half to about 3,000 euros and other allowances have been withdrawn after she refused to pay.