Luke Harding writes: It sounds like a chapter from a cheesy spy novel: former KGB agent, chucked out of Britain in the 80s, lends a large sum of money to a far-right European party. His goal? To undermine the European Union and consolidate ties between Moscow and the future possible leader of pro-Kremlin France.
In fact this is exactly what’s just happened. The founder of the Front National (FN), Jean-Marie Le Pen, borrowed €2m from a Cyprus-based company, Veronisa Holdings, owned by a flamboyant character and cold war operative called Yuri Kudimov.
Kudimov is a former KGB agent turned banker with close links to the Kremlin and the network of big money around it. Back in 1985 Kudimov was based in London. His cover story was that he was a journalist working for a Soviet newspaper; in 1985 the Thatcher government expelled him for alleged spying. (During the same period Vladimir Putin was a KGB officer in Dresden.)
In Paris, the FN confirmed last week that it had taken a whopping €9.4m (£7.4m) loan from the First Czech Russian bank in Moscow. This loan is logical enough. The FN’s leader, Marine Le Pen, makes no secret of her admiration for Putin; her party has links to senior Kremlin figures including Dmitry Rogozin, now Russia’s deputy prime minister, who in 2005 ran an anti-immigrant campaign under the slogan “Clean Up Moscow’s Trash”. Le Pen defended her decision to take the Kremlin money, complaining that she had been refused her access to capital: “What is scandalous here is that the French banks are not lending.” She also denied reports by the news website Mediapart, which broke the story, that the €9.4m was merely the first instalment of a bigger €40m loan.
The Russian money will fuel Marine Le Pen’s run for the French presidency in two years’ time. Nobody expects her to win, but the FN topped the polls in May’s European elections, winning an unprecedented 25% of the vote; Le Pen’s 25 new MEPs already form a pro-Russian bloc inside the European parliament. [Continue reading…]