Charles Van Houtte, a former high-ranking associate for France’s far-right National Rally (formerly known as the National Front) was charged on September 6 with embezzlement as part of an inquiry into suspected misuse of EU funds.
Van Houtte, a Belgian citizen, was the long-time manager of the contracts of European Parliament assistants for the party’s lawmakers in the assembly.
As reported by the Agence France-Presse (AFP), the party’s leader Marine Le Pen and 12 other people, as well as the party itself, are accused of using European Parliament funds provided for assistants to pay more than 20 France-based staff in the party from 2009 to 2017.
They have been charged with breach of confidence and conspiracy to defraud, which carry potential sentences of three years in prison and fines of up to €375,000.
Van Houtte is the first suspect to be charged with conspiracy to embezzle public funds, a more serious offence punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a one-million-euro fine.
According to AFP, he testified to investigators last September that he had “instructions” from Le Pen to misuse the funds and confirmed the existence of fake contracts — allegations rejected by party officials.
“If my client has been charged with complicity to embezzle public funds, it seems logical that all the others be charged with this crime,” his lawyer, Henri Laquay, told AFP.