PARIS • French far-right leader and former presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has been charged in connection with a probe into whether her National Front party misused funds at the European Parliament.
The charges were confirmed by Mr Rodolphe Bosselut, Ms Le Pen's lawyer, in an interview with the BFMTV news channel on Friday.
The National Front, led by Ms Le Pen, is accused of putting staff members who did political work unrelated to the European Union on the European Parliament's payroll by having them sign up as phoney parliamentary aides.
Ms Le Pen, who until recently was a European representative herself, was charged with breach of trust over accusations that she put her chief of staff and her bodyguard on the EU payroll at various times between 2009 and 2016. She was also charged with complicity of breach of trust for her wider role as head of the party.
The probe and looming possibility of a trial for Ms Le Pen come at a difficult time for her party, which was thrown into turmoil by her loss in the presidential race and its lacklustre showing in the legislative elections that followed.
Ms Le Pen has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and characterised the inquiry as meddling in the party's internal affairs because of its anti-European positions. Sixteen other National Front representatives in the European Parliament have been under investigation by the French authorities since 2015. They include Ms Le Pen's father, Mr Jean-Marie Le Pen, and her companion, Mr Louis Aliot.
She was defeated by Mr Emmanuel Macron, an independent centrist, in the second round of the presidential elections in May, but managed to win a seat in the National Assembly, France's Lower House of Parliament, in June.
The charges filed against Ms Le Pen, who is not accused of trying to enrich herself personally, are preliminary and mean only that the judges working on the case have suspicions that are strong enough to formally place her under investigation. If the judges send Ms Le Pen to trial at the end of their probe, she could face up to three years in prison and a fine of up to €375,000 (S$590,000) if convicted.