Far-right French leader Marine Le Pen has been charged by police over the misappropriation of European Parliament funds, her lawyer has said.
Ms Le Pen is facing allegations her party the Front National (FN) claimed millions of euros from the European Parliament to pay for France-based staff.
The prosecutor’s office said she was handed preliminary charges of breach of trust and complicity in breach of trust concerning two of her aides when she served at the European Parliament.
The Front National (FN) leader won a seat in the French parliament for the first time taking her northern fiefdom of Henin-Beaumont with 58 percent of the vote. Her election meant she gave up her seat in the European Parliament.
Her lawyer Rodolphe Bosselut said the decision was “expected” and that Ms Le Pen would appeal.
The case was triggered by a complaint from the European Parliament, which accused the FN of defrauding it to the tune of about €340,000 (£290,000).
According to French newspaper Le Monde, the European Parliament now estimates the reported fraud cost Brussels about €5m (£4.4m) between 2012 and 2017 after “new information” emerged. Previously, it was estimated the alleged fraud had cost €1.9m.
The parliament believes the party used funds allotted for parliamentary assistants to pay FN staff for party work.
This reportedly included one of Ms Le Pen’s top advisors Catherine Griset, who has been charged with concealment, and her body-guard Thierry Legier.
A total of 17 members of the FN, including Ms Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen, elected to the European Parliament are being investigated over salaries paid to around 40 parliamentary assistants.
In February, The European Parliament said it would start docking Le Pen’s pay unless she paid the money back.
Ms Le Pen denies the charges. She refused to attend a summons during the presidential campaign using her parliamentary immunity as an excuse but she pledged to “meet with the judges after the electoral sequence”.
The 48-year-old, who lost by a 20-point margin to Emmanuel Macron in May’s presidential run-off, saw her party win just eight seats in the 577-seat National Assembly in this month’s election.
In February, French police raided the FN headquarters outside Paris as part of the investigation into allegations.
Yet the scandal had little impact on her presidential campaign.