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France

Far-left Mélenchon cries innocence over fraud investigation

media File Picture France's firebrand far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon (File picture) REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Firebrand left-winger Jean-Luc Melenchon was criticised over his vehement opposition to police raids at his party headquarters and residence. Mélenchon's party France Unbowed is being investigated over misuse of funds.

French prosecutors on Wednesday announced they were investigating leftist firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon after he shoved a prosecutor in a fit of rage over having his apartment and party headquarters raided by police.

The leader of the France Unbowed party has drawn criticism over Tuesday's outburst, with ruling party members accusing him of placing himself above the law and trying to win votes by claiming to be the victim of a political plot.

The 67-year-old said Wednesday he had "no regrets" about his reaction, explaining that he was furious because of the way the searches were carried out -- and not because of the fact that they took place.

"They searched us as if we were a band of thieves," he told BFMTV channel, adding that as a person of "Mediterranean" origin -- he was born in Morocco -- he had a tendency to lose his temper and there was "no need in making a big deal of it".

A series of standoffs between Melenchon and the investigators were captured in videos that were widely shared on social media.

The first occurred after officers arrived at Melenchon's Paris apartment at dawn and began combing it for evidence in two investigations -- one into the party's use of European Parliament funds, the other into the funding of Melenchon's 2017 presidential campaign.

Filming the scene live on Facebook, the MP cast himself as the victim of a state plot to silence him.

"Tomorrow they'll find an excuse to throw me in the slammer like (former Brazilian president) Lula... It's not normal!", he said.

Things got more heated later at the party's headquarters, which was also searched by police along with the homes of several other party officials.

Arriving at the party's offices, Melenchon and a group of party officials tried to force down the door.

"The republic, it's me, I'm the one who is a parliamentarian. Get out of the way and open up this door" an apoplectic Melenchon shouted at the policeman standing guard outside before proceeding to try ram the door open.

After gaining entry through another door, the former Socialist minister rounded on the prosecutor overseeing the operations inside, shouting: "I'm the leader of an opposition group. You should not be treating me in this way. I'm not a cigarette thief!"

"Go on, just try and touch me !"
   

In a video shown on the Quotidien news programme, Melenchon is then seen shoving the prosecutor and a policeman, taunting the latter: "Go on, just try and touch me!"

In other scenes, a policeman is seen wrestling a party member to the ground, sparking a furious reaction from France Unbowed MP Alexis Corbiere, who shouted: "No one touches a comrade."

The images sparked criticism of Melenchon, a political veteran famous for his tirades against globalisation and economic liberals, and his party, which has led opposition to President Emmanuel Macron's pro-business reforms.

"Jean-Luc Melenchon, an outburst too far?" the leftwing Liberation newspaper questioned in a front-page headline.

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux accused Melenchon of taking the same line as far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who has also cast the multiple investigations into her party's finances as a political plot.

"It's unacceptable in France to question the independence of the judiciary," Griveaux said, adding that Melenchon was using "the same arguments" as his arch-foe Le Pen, leader of the National Rally party (formerly the National Front).

The leader of the centrist Modem party Francois Bayrou said that it was not unusual for a French party, including his own, to be raided by police.

"A politician is as answerable to the law as others," he said.

But the National Rally came to Melenchon's defence, with European parliamentarian Nicolas Bay calling the raids a sign of the "interference of the judiciary in the democratic process".

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