November 28, 2018 / 11:35 AM / 13 days ago

EU court rejects Le Pen challenge over European Parliament funds misuse

FILE PHOTO: Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National), speaks at a meeting in the Bulgarian parliament in Sofia, November 16, 2018. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov/File Photo

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The EU’s second highest court upheld on Wednesday a decision by the European Union to recover money from far-right politician Marine Le Pen, delivering the former French presidential candidate a second legal setback this year.

Le Pen, who was a member of the European Parliament from 2009 until 2017, hired a bodyguard on a three-month contract as a local assistant at the end of 2011 with a monthly pre-tax salary of more than 9,000 euros ($10,155).

EU anti-fraud agency OLAF opened an investigation in 2014 into the payments and concluded that the European Parliament should recover that money. The parliament’s secretary general said that a sum of 41,554 euros ($46,902) of EU funds had been wrongly paid in the period and needed to be reimbursed.

Le Pen challenged that decision at the General Court of the European Union, the EU’s second highest court. She cited what she called factual errors, misuse of power, discrimination and OLAF’s lack of independence. The court rejected her arguments on Wednesday, saying they lacked evidence or legal basis.

The General Court also upheld in June a parliamentary decision to recover 300,000 euros related to another person hired by Le Pen as a personal assistant.

She can still appeal the decision on points of law to the European Court of Justice, the EU’s top court.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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