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French FN founder Le Pen's home searched in tax fraud probe: legal sources

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French police searched the manor house and offices of far-right National Front (FN) founder Jean-Marie Le Pen on Wednesday as part of investigations into suspected tax fraud, judicial sources told AFP.

[PARIS] French police searched the manor house and offices of far-right National Front (FN) founder Jean-Marie Le Pen on Wednesday as part of investigations into suspected tax fraud, judicial sources told AFP.

Financial prosecutors opened a preliminary probe in June over suspicions Le Pen had stashed money abroad and failed to declare his assets, which he is required to do as a member of the European Parliament, a source said.

They then filed a formal complaint on September 24, naming both Le Pen and his wife Jany, the source added.

Another complaint has been lodged against Le Pen's personal assistant, Gerald Gerin, who is suspected of acting as a front for a secret bank account, it said.

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Le Pen, 87, was expelled on August 20 from the party he founded after a bustup with his daughter Marine over remarks he made about the Holocaust.

Investigators searched Le Pen's home in La Celle-Saint-Cloud in the upmarket western Paris suburbs, his former home in nearby Rueil-Malmaison and his offices in Saint-Cloud, as well as Gerin's home.

Le Pen was abroad on holiday at the time of the operation.

He branded the search as an "unjustified act of judicial violence." His attorney, Frederic Joachim, said the operation was "done to sully a leading politician... they want to kill a man off. It's tantamount to torture."

Gerin told AFP that the search of his house lasted "between four and five hours" and the investigators took away "minor stuff" and his computer. "I feel violated," he said.

The online investigative news site Mediapart reported late April that Tracfin, a specialist anti-laundering unit at the finance ministry, was probing a trust fund in Geneva whose executor was Le Pen's aide.

The fund was worth 2.2 million euros (S$3.4 million), 1.7 million euros of which were in gold bullion and coins, it said.

Tracfin was also interested in a trust fund based in the British Virgin Islands and managed in Geneva for Le Pen's assistant, a source close to the investigation told AFP.

That account was closed in 2014 and the funds transferred to a bank in the Bahamas.

"I once again deny in any way breaking the law," Le Pen said Wednesday.

In 2013, he acknowledged he had a bank account in Switzerland, which he said had been opened in 1981 in order to finance a record company that he had at the time.

"I have been subject to minute, even inquisitorial, attention by tax authorities for dozens of years." "As always, whether it's under a left or right government, it seems the electoral calendar demands these legal and if possible media trials," he added.

AFP

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