Marine Le Pen
Marine Le PenReuters

French far-right Front National party said it borrowed €9m from a Russian lender, confirming an earlier report by investigative news site Mediapart.

The admission has raised concern among some commentators worried over possible foreign intrusion into French politics and comes at a time of increasing tension between Moscow and the West over the situation in Ukraine.

The treasurer for Marine Le Pen's party, Wallerand de Saint-Just, told France Info radio that a deal was signed with the Russian lender, the Moscow-based First Czech Russian Bank (FRCB) and that the party had already cashed in €2m of the loan.

"We have been looking for loans for some time, to fund our election campaigns. But our bank, like most French and European lenders, categorically refuse to give the FN and FN candidates the slightest cent," he said.

The party, which made a dramatic breakthrough in the French parliament and topped the European polls in May, has based its success on an anti-immigration, Euro-sceptic agenda, appealing to an anti-establishment electorate.

Banks in France have been unwilling to lend money to political parties since Nicolas Sarkozy was fined €500,000 for undisclosed expenses in his 2012 presidential bid.

The Russian loan is expected to cover part of the Front National's campaign ahead of national elections in 2017. The party reportedly needs €30m to €40m.

Mediapart said the loan raises the question of a possible foreign intrusion into French political life.

Supporting the Kremlin

Marine Le Pen has taken the party from a radical right-wing niche to populist anti-immigration and anti-establishment platform. She claims it is removed from its racist and anti-Semitic roots, with which it was synonymous under the leadership of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

It is no big surprise that Marine Le Pen, who visited Moscow on several occasions since taking over from her father, is seeking Russian support, despite the fascist origins of the party. At a time when relationships between the European Union and the Kremlin are at an all-time low, with economic and diplomatic sanctions imposed on Russian businessmen and lawmakers, Le Pen's party described Putin as a "patriot" and criticised EU bureaucrats for rekindling the Cold War with the superpower.

Among those hit by sanctions is Russian nationalist MP Alexander Mikhailovich Babakov, who allegedly acted as a middleman in the FN's loan deal.

In September, Marine Le Pen said the crisis in eastern Ukraine was "all the EU's fault" and slammed France's decision to put on hold the delivery of two Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia.

But Le Pen's is not the only far-right European politician supporting the strongman Putin. Far-right Freedom Party's leader of Austria, Heinz-Christian Strache, condemned European policy urging Brussels to "stop playing the stooge of the US in the encirclement of Russia".

Similar comments came from Geert Wilders, the leader of the Islamophobe Dutch Freedom Party, who blamed the EU-Russia tensions on "shameless Europhiles with their dreams of empire".

Putin's dream

Questions may arise over why Putin is so enamoured by Le Pen and the right wing, populist European bloc that has gained traction in the past few years. During the Cold War, the opposite was true, with Europe's radical left accused of secretly bolstering the Kremlin's agenda in Western democracies.

The key inspiration is from Putin's dreams of an anti-Western, purist, imperialist Russia that shuts the door to gay rights and courts "traditional" values of Orthodox christianity. Europe is perceived as corrupted by free-market capitalism and too tolerant towards migrants seeking to pollute its founding values.

Front National leaders are open about their support to Russia. FN veteran Christian Bouchet told Mediapart that there was nothing wrong with borrowing money from Russia.

"It's certainly no worse than borrowing from [Muammar] Gaddafi," he said, in reference to an ongoing probe into allegations that former president Sarkozy received funds from the late Libyan leader for his successful 2007 presidential campaign.