When French politician Marine Le Pen needed cash for her far-right party, an obscure Russian bank agreed to help. Four years later, the bank has gone bust. The owner is facing a warrant for his arrest. Former Russian military officers are demanding money. And the party’s treasurer is sending off some $165,000 every few months to a woman in Moscow, unsure of where the payments ultimately will go. The money failed to deliver Le Pen the French presidency in last year’s election, denying the Kremlin a powerful ally in the heart of Europe. Instead, the 9.4 million-euro loan, then worth $12.2 million, dragged her party into the shadowy underworld of Russian cross-border finance, putting it in league with people accused of having ties to Russian organized crime, money laundering and military operations.
The mysterious saga of the loan offers a rare look inside the Russian influence engine, demonstrating how people, companies and networks outside the Kremlin pursue President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy aims, often without a centralized plan.
“It was in the interest of Russia to support Marine Le Pen,” said Aymeric Chauprade, a member of the European Parliament who advised Le Pen on foreign policy before leaving her party. “Every time you have a political leader who says we should change our policy regarding Russia . . . they are interested in supporting him.” After Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election, the intelligence community concluded that Putin himself had signed off on “active measures” to bolster Donald Trump. The assessment added to a perception in the U.S. and beyond that the Russian president personally orchestrates all of Moscow’s covert operations. But Moscow’s foreign influence efforts also bubble up from below, or percolate on the margins, with power brokers offering support to Kremlin sympathizers abroad in ways that do not always require Putin’s upfront blessing. The Le Pen loan, analysts say, is an example of how it works. After Putin sets out the vision, agents inside and outside the government begin executing it, hoping to score points with him if their gambits succeed.
via washington post: A Russian bank gave Marine Le Pen’s party a loan. Then weird things began happening