A problem has emerged for France's anti-immigrant, anti-Euro presidential frontrunner, Marine Le Pen, and it has little to do with being behind in the polls ahead of the 2017 presidential elections, far from it. It has, however, everything to do with something far simpler: money, as the National Front leader is suddenly struggling to raise the €20 million ($21 million) she needs to fund the French presidential and legislative campaigns in 2017 after the party’s Russian lender failed, the party treasurer said.
This past July, the Central Bank of Russia revoked the license of the National Front’s Moscow-based lender First Czech Russian Bank OOO and Le Pen's party has still to find another backer, according to treasurer Wallerand de Saint Just. Saint Just said he’s seeking international financiers in countries including Russia because French banks have refused to fund his party.
In a phone interview with Bloomberg, Saint Just said that “the loss of the FCRB was a hard blow for us" adding that “the Russia loan was a stable resource. Now we are still searching for loans.”
And, since a Le Pen victory threatens to be the final straw that crushes the European establishment camel, it is no surprise that no existing financial organizations are willing to provide her with the funds she may need to crush them.
Last week, the French Le Parisian reported that a U.S. investment bank was preparing to lend the party $20 million in August, but pulled the plug on the deal at the last minute.
Le Pen’s ties with Russia have come under scrutiny in recent weeks amid reports that the CIA "concluded" that Putin directed hackers to buoy the candidacy of Donald Trump in the U.S. Le Pen is running second in the race to become France’s next president and is openly supportive of Putin’s military operations in Syria. The now defunct Russian bank lent the National Front €9 million in 2014. In the same year, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen’s political fund Cotelec received another 2 million-euro loan from a Russian-backed fund based in Cyprus, news website Mediapart reported. Saint Just said Cotelec helped fund the party’s 2015 regional campaign.
Realizing which way the "Putin conspiracy theory" winds blow, Le Pen knows she wouldn’t have any problem in getting a Russian loan but, according to Bloomberg, she has decided the risks outweigh the benefits because she’d be hounded for this by the French media, said Sergei Markov, a political consultant to the Kremlin administration. “Le Pen doesn’t want to endanger her chances,” Markov said by phone. While Russia sees the conservative candidate Francois Fillon as a strong presidential contender, it also doesn’t rule out a far-right victory, he said.
Meanwhile, Le Pen is surviving on a modest grassroots campaign, having raised some money from followers and the party has some reserves it can draw on, Saint Just said, without giving any figures. “In these funding matters you have to remain discreet,” he said. “No figures, no names.”
Of course, should Le Pen proceed to win the French election, it would be another crushing blow for the status quo, and another huge victory for the Kremlin, which would then be accused of rigging the entire world.
As Bloomberg adds, the National Front leader and her allies have made multiple trips to Moscow or Crimea in recent years. Putin this month signed a “working agreement” with Austria’s populist Freedom Party in Moscow, after the group reached the runoff for its presidential election.
Ironically, amid concern that Russia may also seek to influence European elections, the National Front has begun to play down its ties to Moscow, something which clearly neither bothered Trump, nor adversely impacted his victory in presidential race. In February Saint Just said the party was reaching out to Russian banks for 25 million euros to bankroll its presidential campaign.
Unlike other candidates, Le Pen hasn’t disclosed her campaign’s funding or spending.
Others are more open: republicans nominee Francois Fillon, who is leading in the polls, published the spending on his primary campaign on Wednesday while centrist contender Emmanuel Macron said his newly founded party En Marche! has raised 4 million euros from donors. Both disclosures were voluntary as campaign accounts don’t have be made public in France.
The two-round presidential election is scheduled for April 23 and May 7 and the French will return to the polls on June 11 and 18 to elect delegates to the National Assembly, the lower chamber.
Should Le Pen remain financially isolated, her chance of winning the election in which she is perceived as a long shot, but all too possible in light of recent stunning political upheavals, will quickly evaporate.