French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has received a personal loan of 10.7 million euros for her campaign from the Hungarian bank MKB, whose main shareholder is a close associate of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
The loan was declared on a disclosure form that French candidates must file with the election regulator regarding their personal assets and debts, which has been released. in line Tuesday.
Unlike other French political parties, Le Pen’s National Rally has long struggled to fund campaigns because French banks did not lend to it out of concern for reputational risk. The party worked with the government’s mediator on credit last year to try to remedy the situation, but failed to secure a loan in France.
“It is scandalous that the French banks do not lend to us,” said Thierry Mariani, MEP for the National Rally, last month. “We had to go abroad to find funds.”
According to two sources familiar with the matter, the decision to ask MKB to extend Le Pen’s loan came from Orban’s inner circle – signaling a high level of direct political influence within the bank. MKB is roughly one-third state-owned since a complex merger announced last year.
Asked about the political influence on the decision, Orban’s spokesman, Bertalan Havasi, said: “This is fake news.” A bank spokesperson declined to comment on the rationale for the loan.
The loan is listed on the disclosure form as having a term of 16 months. Le Pen would likely be able to pay it back once her campaign expenses are reimbursed by the state, which will happen as long as she gets 5% of the vote in the first round and files accounts with the regulator.
Gergely Gulyas, Orban’s chief of staff, was asked about the loan in February when French media reported that Le Pen had secured funding from a Hungarian bank.
“It’s probably good business for any bank in the EU to issue credit that they are guaranteed to recover quickly,” Gulyas said. “Freedom of services is a fundamental right in the EU.”
The National Bank of Hungary, which acts as market regulator in Budapest, said a loan to a foreign political party or candidate would not violate any local regulations. But several bankers said they viewed the loan as problematic due to political exposure.
Le Pen has long courted Orban and other populist or far-right leaders in Europe as they push their ideas on reducing immigration, protecting national identity and opposing what they call for the seizure of power by Brussels.
Le Pen has made several trips to Hungary in recent years, and meet Orban in Madrid in January during a summit of far-right and populist parties. At her first major campaign rally in Reims last month, Orban appeared in a video message of support alongside others like Italian Matteo Salvini and Dutchman Geert Wilders.
“Marine Le Pen is a seasoned warrior,” Orban said in the video. “I wish him good luck in this fight for France!
In 2014, Le Pen’s party turned to banks in Russia ahead of regional elections for a loan of 9.4 million euros, part of which is still outstanding. In 2017 he used crowdfunding supporters after the banks closed their accounts in what Le Pen called a “banking fatwa.”
Orban, a nationalist who, like Le Pen, also faces elections in April, has helped strengthen Hungary’s banking sector, with a key role played by MKB owner Lorinc Meszaros, his childhood friend and the the richest tycoon in the country.
Meszaros – a former pipefitter who has openly attributed his rise to “God, good fortune and Viktor Orban” – controls a business empire that includes several banks, construction, tourism, energy and media companies in Hungary and Central and Eastern Europe.
He relied heavily on government procurement. But fears over inadequate guarantees for EU-funded contracts prompted Brussels to threaten Budapest with withholding the funds.
With President Emmanuel Macron favored for re-election in France’s two-round vote that begins April 10, Le Pen is well-placed to run the second round against him, staging a repeat of the 2017 election.
She is second in the polls, with 16.6% of voting intentions in the first round, according to the Financial Times poll tracker, while her far-right rival Eric Zemmour is at 12.9%, Jean-Luc Mélenchon on the left at 12%. and curator Valérie Pécresse at 11.8%.