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Europe

European parliament protects French Front National MEP from Qatar libel suit

media Front National vice-president Florian Philippot Reuters/Robert Pratta

The European parliament on Tuesday refused to suspend the parliamentary privilege of French Front National MEP Florian Philippot, thus blocking an attempt by the Gulf state of Qatar to sue him for libel. Philippot, who is one of the far-right party's two vice-presidents, welcomed the decision and accused the French government of bowing down to wishes of the oil-rich state.

A plenary session of the European parliament accepted a recommendation from its legal affairs committee not to lift Philippot's immunity from prosecution on the grounds that MEPs cannot be detained or prosecuted for opinions or votes exercised as part of their work as elected representatives.

Philippot immediately hit out at the French government, which had passed on a court's request for his privileges to be suspended, and at Christiane Taubira, who was justice minister at the time the request was made.

"This vote highlights the dishonourable behaviour of the French government and particularly that of the former justice minister, Madame Taubira, who signed in her own hand the request for suspension of privilege, in defiance of the law, following the unprecedented suit by the state of Qatar against myself," he said in a statement.

Taubira, who resigned last week, is a favourite target of the right, often accused of being soft on crime and sometimes subjected to racist insults.

He called for an inquiry into "possible close - too close - financial links" between Qatar's government and leading French politicians and institutions.

A court in Versailles, near Paris, asked for his immunity to be lifted in September, in response to a libel case filed by Qatar in April.

In the aftermath of the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks, Philippot accused Qatar and other Gulf states of financing jihadi organisations, including the Islamic State (IS) armed group.

To read our reports of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and their aftermath, click here.

On hearing of the case, he stood by his statement, attacking "the dubious links between this radical Islamic dictatorship, as well as the incestuous relationship ... between the country and part of the French political class".

He cited a 2014 European parliament resolution that declared that IS received finance from donors in Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

Qatar has extensive property interests in France, including hotels in Paris and Cannes, and, along with Saudi Arabia, is a market for French products, notably arms.

To read our reports of the November 2015 Paris attacks and their aftermath, click here.

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