France's far-right political dynasty have been dragged into the 'Panama Papers' scandal, as Front National (FN) founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and several aides of his daughter and party leader, Marine, were accused of stashing wealth away in offshore tax havens. The allegations were made by Le Monde, one of more than 100 media outlets involved in analysing more than 11 million documents leaked from secretive Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.
According to the newspaper, 87-year-old firebrand Jean-Marie is suspected of dissimulating part of his multimillion assets through a shell company set up by his former butler, Gerald Gerin, in the British Virgin Islands. The company, Balerton Marketing Ltd., was allegedly used to stow away a €2.2m (£1.75m, $2.5m) fortune in cash, titles and gold bars.
Established in 2000 on the island of Tortola, Balerton Marketing appears on the Mossack Fonseca records.
Meanwhile, Gerin has denied acting as a front for his former employer who in turn defended himself, telling Le Monde that he had no role in his ex-butler's affairs. Jean-Marie Le Pen was not the only FN figure hit by the fallout from the massive data leak. Frederic Chatillon and Nicolas Crochet, two close allies of his daughter Marine, have also been accused of using shell companies in the Caribbean and South East Asia to avoid scrutiny from French authorities.
Le Monde said the documents showed that Chatillon, a university friend of Le Pen, was at the centre of a "sophisticated offshore system" aimed at getting "money out of France, through shell companies and false invoices in order to evade French anti-money-laundering authorities".
In 2012, the businessman took €316,000 (£252,000, $360,000) out of his communication company Riwal to reinvest the sum in another Singapore-based company run by a friend. At the time, Riwal had just served as sole contractor for FN's recently concluded presidential campaign.
The money transfer was however channelled through a number of shell companies with headquarters in Hong Kong and the British Virgin Islands including some created by Mossack Fonseca. According to the newspaper, the process was facilitated by Crochet, Le Pen's ex economy adviser, through a fake invoice emitted by another offshore company belonging to his brother.
In a lengthy Facebook message posted ahead of the article's publication, Chatillon claimed the arrangements had been "perfectly legal". He said he decided to invest in Asia profits generated by his companies in 2011 because the region "offered the best profitability prospects" and he had sought to "escape the usual media pressure in France".
The 48-year-old denied having had any direct relation with Mossack Fonseca, saying he was advised to purchase pre-existing offshore companies rather than create ad hoc ones to complete the deal and only by coincidence did it turn out that one of those, named Time Dragon, was originally set up by the firm at the heart of the scandal.
French prosecutors have opened a probe into possible money laundering alleged in the massive leak and was welcomed by President Francois Hollande as "good news" in the fight against tax avoidance. Both Chatillon and Crochet were already under investigation over a suspected illegal campaign financing for FN.
About 1,000 French citizens are believed to be implicated in the Mossack Fonseca scandal. Holding offshore companies and accounts is not inherently illegal but they can be used to hide assets from the taxman or launder money from illicit sources.