Two members of France’s surging far-right National Front party with close ties to senior officials were named Tuesday in a growing “Panama Papers” scandal.
France’s leading Le Monde newspaper reported businessman Frederic Chatillon, a longtime friend of National Front leader Marine Le Pen, and accountant Nicolas Crochet allegedly created a complex and “sophisticated offshore system” that transferred tens of thousands of dollars from France to accounts in Hong Kong, Singapore and the Virgin Islands.
Both men are already under French investigation in connection with a separate case of alleged money laundering.
The newspaper also named French banking giant Societe Generale as among the “top five creators of offshore businesses", an activity that reportedly slowed after 2012, but did not stop altogether.
The activities of the National Front members and Societe Generale were linked to the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, which is tied to the massive and growing document leak.
Nicknamed the “Panama Papers,” the more than 11 million documents have revealed financial arrangements of high-profile companies, politicians, athletes and other public figures linked to possible wrongdoing associated with using offshore entities.
The documents were initially leaked to German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which then shared them with more than 100 media outlets, including Le Monde.
Implicating political leaders like Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, close associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin and relatives of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, among many others, the leaks have rocked the political and financial world.
Besides the National Front and Societe Generale, a number of other French names have figured in the leaked documents, including former UEFA football chief Michel Platini, former leftist budget minister Jerome Cahuzac, who resigned in 2013 over allegations of tax fraud and money laundering, and an associate of the country’s former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy.
The allegations against the National Front are striking not only because the party remains a powerful and popular presence in French politics a year before presidential and parliamentary elections, but also because it has long denounced abuses by its rivals.
“Clean hands and head held high,” former Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen used to say.
Top National Front members swiftly denied allegations of wrongdoing by the party or its leadership.
“It is all perfectly legal,” National Front Vice President Florian Philippot told French TV on Tuesday. He added, “Mr. Chatillon has no responsibilities at the National Front.”
Chatillon, who designed Marine Le Pen's 2012 campaign website, also denied wrongdoing on his Facebook page, adding “obviously the National Front has nothing to do ... with this private affair."
The statements of clean dealing were echoed by Societe Generale, which said it conducts “a proactive policy with regard to the fight against fraud and tax avoidance.”
Societe Generale made headlines at the height of the financial crisis when its former trader Jerome Kerviel was sentenced to jail for crimes related to the bank's trading loss of almost $6.5 billion. Kerviel insisted his bosses knew what he was doing all along.
The ex-trader lost no time in reacting to the Panama Papers leaks, wishing, in a tweet, a “nice week” for the bank.