Le Pen bank loan demonstrates Russian methods of spreading influence
In 2014, when the the far-right party of French politician Marine Le Pen needed cash, the loan of €9.4 million came from First Czech-Russian Bank, which was founded in the early 2000s as a joint venture between a Czech state bank and a Russian lender and went on to come under the personal ownership of Russian financier Roman Popov and obtain a European license via a subsidiary in the Czech Republic. Two and a half months after the Le Pen loan was signed, a Mediapart investigative journalist published the news, sparking criticism from those who connected the loan to Le Pen's pro-Russian positions. In 2016, with the backing of Russian premier Vladimir Putin, Russian Central Bank head Eliva Nabiullina began cracking down on questionable banks with low-quality assets, including First Czech. Just before the bank closed,Le Pen's loan was been sold on and then transferred to Aviazapchast, an aircraft supply company that includes the Syrian air force among its clients. However, the Russian state deposit agency filed a case in 2016 claiming that the sale and transfer were illegitimate, and the loan should belong to the Russian financial authorities. By 2019, Le Pen was continuing to make final repayments to a Mowcow notary holding the cash pending a final ruling. The case is considered to be an example of how Russian state actors leverage financial networks for political purposes. This particular loan was not considered successful; Russia is thought now to be experimenting with spreading its influence by using smaller amounts of untraceable cash.
Writer: Paul Sonne
Publication: Washington Post