A key ally and friend of far-right Front National (FN) president Marine Le Pen faces a judicial probe over allegations concerning the financing of three of the party's election campaigns. Frédéric Chatillon, whose communications company Riwal is the main election services provider for the FN, was held in custody for 48 hours before being placed under formal investigation - one step short of charges - on January 23rd for “fraud”, the “misuse of corporate assets”, “laundering the proceeds of the misuse of corporate assets”, “forgery” and “use of false instruments”.
The formal investigation of Chatillon arises from a judicial probe triggered in April 2014 by France's election spending watchdog the Commission nationale des comptes de campagne et des financements politiques (CNCCFP). That judge-led investigation is into claims of “forgery and use of false instruments” and “conspiracy to commit fraud” and centres on the financing of the FN's campaigns in the local elections in 2011 and the parliamentary elections for 2012. At the request of the prosecution authorities the investigation was widened in September 2014 to include the 2012 presidential campaign, at which Marine Le Pen stood as a candidate, and claims of misuse of corporate assets and conspiracy to launder money.
The two examining magistrates carrying out this probe, Renaud Van Ruymbeke and Aude Buresi, are focussing their attentions on two organisations. One is Chatillon's firm Riwal, which produces election material for the FN and makes the campaign kits used by its candidates. The other is Marine Le Pen's 'micro party' called Jeanne, which is essentially a funding vehicle that lends the party's candidates funds for their election campaign expenses, with the candidates then getting their expenses reimbursed by the state under French election laws once the campaign is over. Jeanne - named in honour of Joan of Arc ('Jeanne d'Arc' in French)- also sells the election kits supplied by Riwal to the candidates.
Among the issues being examined by the judges is the 450,000 euro loan from the micro party to Le Pen's own presidential campaign in 2012 at the exceptionally high interest rate of 7%, which pocketed the organisation some 19,000 euros. As Mediapart has already reported (see here in French), some loan agreements may have been falsified or pre-dated. In 2012 Jeanne, whose treasurer Axel Loustau is a very close ally of Chatillon, received a total of 9 million euros.
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