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Le Pen Party Needs Cash, Could Turn to Russia Again

FILE - France 2016 US Election: French far-right leader Marine Le Pen makes a statement on the presidential election in the United States of America, Nov. 9, 2016 in Nanterre, outside Paris.

Money, and how to get it, has dogged French far-right presidential contender Marine Le Pen for years.

Now, as her National Front party’s treasurer says it’s looking “everywhere” for the 20 million euros ($21 million) needed to fund upcoming campaigns, she may be looking to Russia for cash — again.

While foreign donations to French political parties are barred, loans are not. But it’s still a daring prospect for a party whose finances have drawn unwanted scrutiny.

Investigations, a trial

Alleged funding irregularities have prompted multiple legal investigations and an impending trial for several party officials and associates. Also, a 2014 loan from a Russian bank raised concerns over Moscow’s potential influence on French democracy. Not to mention the U.S. decision this week to impose sanctions and expel Russians over alleged cyber-meddling in the U.S. presidential election.

The French National Front says it’s the target of a smear campaign, and notes that other candidates have also had financial troubles.

Le Pen’s firm rejection of foreign influence would make fishing for finances outside French waters a no-go, were it not for her Russia-friendly stance and what party officials say is the refusal of French banks to lend money to the anti-immigration National Front.

Funds are needed to finance campaigning for the April-May presidential vote and June parliamentary elections. Party officials deny recent reports that they have received a new loan from a Russian establishment, but no one is denying that the party may be asking for one.

“We are looking everywhere. We are working discreetly,” party treasurer Wallerand de Saint Just told The Associated Press. They’re not ruling out funding requests from sources including Russia, the United Arab Emirates, or even the United States, he said.

Moscow may be called

The party borrowed 9 million euros in 2014 from the small First Czech Russian Bank, but the bank’s license was revoked this year, Saint Just said. Other Russian banks might consider a new loan.

Moscow has courted far-right parties in Europe in an influence-building campaign as friction between Russia and the West has mounted over Ukraine and the Syrian civil war. Some leaders like Le Pen have hobnobbed in Moscow and at embassy events at home. Chieftains of Hungary’s anti-Semitic Jobbik and Austria’s Freedom Party also have made the trip.

In a shifting of views in Russia’s favor, some mainstream politicians, from France’s conservative Francois Fillon, a top presidential contender, to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, are sympathetic to a friendly approach to Moscow.

There is concern now that any new effort to tap Russian banks for loans could do just that, however, by making France vulnerable to influence from the Kremlin.