Marine Le Pen and others in her National Rally party are accused of using European Parliament funds to pay for staff based in France
Paris (AFP) - France's far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen said her cash-strapped party was in mortal danger Monday after judges seized two million euros in subsidies as part of an illicit funding inquiry.
Le Pen, who was runner-up in last year's presidential election behind Emmanuel Macron, said the move was a "death sentence" for the party formerly known as the National Front and accused the judiciary of a plot to destroy it.
She and other National Rally lawmakers are accused of using public funds earmarked for parliamentary assistants when they were European Parliament MPs to pay for France-based staff.
Two investigating judges seized the party's subsidies to ensure the RN could pay up if ordered by a court in due course to repay seven million euros to the European Parliament.
Le Pen said that without the subsidies the RN would be unable to pay salaries in August and called on "all those who fight for democracy" to stand up for the party.
Urging the French not to allow the country to slide into "dictatorship", the 49-year-old trained lawyer, who has struggled to recover from her election defeat, launched an emergency fund-raising drive.
Several leading politicians came to her defence -- a rare show of solidarity with a party long viewed as untouchable.
"The principle in a democratic nation is to make sure that a seizure doesn't threaten a party's very existence," Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure told Europe 1 radio.
The leader of the centrist UDI party Jean-Christophe Lagarde said Le Pen was "right to protest" and that the judges should have waited for a verdict in the case before seizing party funds.
The FN had been expected to receive roughly 4.5 million euros in subsidies this year, proportional to the party's results in recent elections.
Such subsidies are common in European countries, which see them as a way of ensuring a level political playing field and of limiting the risks of corruption or illegal campaign funding.
- 'Banking fatwa' -
The party has long presented itself as the victim of a political conspiracy.
In November, Le Pen claimed she was the target of a "banking fatwa" after banking giants HSBC and Societe Generale closed her personal and party accounts.
The banks did not say why they took the step but insisted it was in no way political.
During her presidential campaign, Le Pen had already complained loudly about her funding woes, suggesting that French banks were being pressured into rejecting her applications for loans.
In 2014, the party took a nine-million-euro ($10.5-million) loan from a Russian bank, prompting critics to question whether Moscow had influence over the party.
On Monday, sources close to the inquiry into the use of EU funds over several years starting in 2009 told AFP that four more people had been charged.
They include Nicolas Bay, an MEP and top party leader, who like Le Pen has been charged with abuse of trust, as well as Le Pen's bodyguard Thierry Legier.
The party has set up a website to collect donations from supporters.