Poll setback for Le Pen as bank seizes party's property
MARINE Le Pen, France's new leader of the far-right, is facing a major setback in her run to challenge Nicolas Sarkozy after a bank secured the seizure of her party's former riverside headquarters.
Ms Le Pen, who took the reins of the National Front party (FN) from her father, Jean-Marie, in January, is enjoying a surge in the polls, with the prospect of winning seats in the second round of local elections on Sunday.
The FN is trailing Mr Sarkozy's party by just two percentage points.
But the party is deeply in debt and it emerged yesterday that Societe Generale had secured an order for the seizure of the FN's building in the Paris suburb of St Cloud unless it repaid a €5.2m debt by September. The large building was purchased by the party in 1994.
After shocking the nation by reaching the second round of presidential elections in 2002, Mr Le Pen received a drubbing in presidential and legislative elections in 2007.
The poor showing led to a significant fall in the FN's public funding as many of its legislative candidates were not entitled to have their campaign expenses reimbursed by the state, and the party moved its headquarters to less expensive premises in Nanterre. Problems deepened in 2010 when a Versailles court ordered it to reimburse a former donor €6.3m.
The party had been trying to sell the building for more than two years to help pay off debts and had already reduced the asking price from €15m to €10m. The move by Societe Generale could force it into a fire sale.
Ms Le Pen said she would ask banks to lend her money in the knowledge that they would be reimbursed after next year's elections. If they refused, she said she would ask "all the French people to help me".
The 42-year-old hoped that a strong showing in Sunday's elections would act as a springboard to challenge Mr Sarkozy.
Polls suggested that up to a quarter of French people would vote for her. At least one poll suggested that Ms Le Pen would knock Mr Sarkozy out of the first round to reach a second-round run-off against Dominique Strauss Kahn, the current IMF chief, should he run as Socialist contender. (© Daily Telegraph, London)