French Le Pen Tied To Putin, Navalny Reveals

President Macron wins television debate over his nationalist rival.

Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stepped abruptly into France’s tight presidential campaign Wednesday, urging voters to back incumbent Emmanuel Macron and alleging that far-right challenger Marine Le Pen is too closely linked to Russia.

Ms. Le Pen has faced scrutiny before over a 9 million euro that is $9.7 million loan that her party received in 2014 from the First Czech-Russian Bank.

Questions about Ms. Le Pen’s ties to Moscow arose during her presidential bid five years ago that she lost to Mr. Macron, and they have emerged again amid Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. She reiterated during a debate between the two candidates Wednesday evening that the Feb. 24 Russian invasion was “inadmissible.”

The tweet by Navalny’s team, hours before the critical debate, threatened Ms. Le Pen’s relatively smooth ride toward Sunday’s runoff against President Macron.

During the debate, Mr. Macron attacked Madame Le Pen as being dependent on Russia.

“You are speaking to your banker when you speak of Russia, that’s the problem, Madame Le Pen,” President Macron said during the debate.

President Macron won the debate

Mr. Macron was found to be more convincing than far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in a pre-election debate on French televison ahead of Sunday’s presidential runoff vote, an opinion poll showed.

The snap survey by Elabe for BFM TV found that 59 per cent of polled viewers found Macron more convincing than Le Pen. In 2017, the same polling firm found that 63 per cent of those surveyed found Macron more convincing.

Madame Le Pen's cozy relations with Putin

Mr. Navalny, who is Putin’s chief domestic foe, said in the long Twitter thread in French that he wanted to tell Le Pen’s supporters about corruption in Russia and how it has tainted banks like the FCRB.

“This bank is a well-known money-laundering agency created at the instigation of Putin,” Navalny tweeted, although he did not cite any evidence other than his own investigations into corruption in Russia. “This is selling political influence to Putin.”

A 2019 study by the Washington-based Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund found that the FCRB bank had been a “a key cog in Moscow’s attempt to swing political contests overseas — and how this bank sought to use existing campaign finance loopholes to achieve political objectives.”

Ms. Le Pen’s anti-immigration party was a focus of the study, saying the bank had been involved in being a “vehicle for money-laundering by corrupt elites on a massive scale.” It also cited “Russian state-sanctioned interference in the Western political system” in the form of the loan to the National Front.

Ms. Le Pen desire for the loan from Putin's bank has dogged the far-right party for years, along with her ties to Kremlin leader. A photo of the two meeting in 2017 was posted on social media by her opponents during the campaign.

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