MEPs lift Marine Le Pen immunity in defamation case

Marine Le Pen is expected to be elected to the French national parliament this weekend (AFP Photo/PHILIPPE HUGUEN) (AFP/File)

Strasbourg (France) (AFP) - The European Parliament on Thursday lifted the immunity of far-right leader Marine Le Pen in a defamation case, at the request of authorities in her native France.

National Front (FN) leader Le Pen, who lost last month's French presidential election to Emmanuel Macron, is accused of defamation by Christian Estrosi, the mayor of the southern city of Nice.

She alleged in May 2015 that Estrosi financed a leading conservative Islamic group in France by allowing them to pay very low rent on a mosque, and said he was therefore morally complicit with jihadists.

MEPs voted in favour of lifting the immunity she enjoys as a member of the EU assembly, saying there was no reason to believe that the French legal case was motivated by the "intention of harming Marine Le Pen's parliamentary or political activity".

She did not attend the vote.

It is not linked to a separate demand by French prosecutors for MEPs to lift her immunity from prosecution over allegations that the FN used funds alloted for parliamentary assistants to pay party staff in France.

The decision comes a day after the European Parliament lifted the immunity of Le Pen's father Jean-Marie in response to a French racism investigation.

The elder Le Pen, who co-founded the National Front in 1972, is being investigated for saying in August 2009 that immigrants or people of immigrant origin were behind 90 percent of crimes.

Marine Le Pen is expected to be elected to the French national parliament this weekend to represent one of her party's strongholds, the northern former coal mining town of Henin-Beaumont.

If she is elected to the National Assembly, she is expected to give up her seat in the European Parliament which she has held since 2004.