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The €9m (£7m) that French rising star of politics Front National (FN) borrowed from a Russian lender may be just the tip of the iceberg, as fresh reports indicate that Marine Le Pen's party is in talks with a Kremlin-linked bank to get the staggering figure of €40m in total.
Investigative news site Mediapart, who first broke the story about the deal with Moscow-based First Czech Russian Bank (FCRB), owned by pro-Kremlin oligarch Roman Popov, said that the party is looking for another €31m soon.
It cited a senior source of the FN political bureau, who detailed the deal in tranches ahead of the national elections in 2017, which Marine Le Pen is looking to win. Another FN MEP, Bernard Monot, told Mediapart that they expressed to the Kremlin-linked bank "a need for comprehensive financing in our discussions with the bank".
"Our potential need until the [French] presidential and legislative elections [due in 2017] is €45m," he said.
But the FN's treasurer, Wallerand de Saint-Just, said he knew nothing about the sum. Marine Le Pen also called the report "fantastic, delirious" and said that Mediapart "lost its head".
"The amounts it talks about are a total fantasy. FN got a €9m loan. Full stop," she said.
The first report of a deal with Moscow-based banks 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.
From Russia with Love
FN, 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.
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.
According to Mediapart, Le Pen travelled personally to Moscow on a secret trip in February to seal the loan with FRCB. On that occasion, she was allegedly introduced to nationalist MP Alexander Babakov, who has been blacklisted by the EU for his support of a Russian bill on the annexation of Crimea.
Moldova-born Babakov, 51, who acted as middleman in the FN's loan deal, owns at least €11m of real estate in France with his wife, Irina Babakova.
Le Pen is not the only far-right European politician supporting the strongman Putin. The Kremlin, on its part, is eager to fuel anti-EU sentiment in old Europe to leverage key support in easing economic and diplomatic sanctions against Russia.
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". The party has been accused of receiving Russian money.
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"
Hungary's far-right Jobbik party has also been accused of cashing in Kremlin money.
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 for 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.