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French court restores far-right candidate's ties to father

Associated Press Associated Press 17/11/2016 By PHILIPPE SOTTO
FILE - In this Sunday Nov. 30, 2014 file photo, French far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen is kissed by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen in Lyon, central France. A French court is to say Thursday Nov. 17, 2016 whether far-right leader Marine Le Pen must reinstate his father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, inside the party he founded after he was expelled for anti-Semitic comments that blurred her efforts to smooth her image as a presidential candidate. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Sunday Nov. 30, 2014 file photo, French far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen is kissed by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen in Lyon, central France. A French court is to say Thursday Nov. 17, 2016 whether far-right leader Marine Le Pen must reinstate his father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, inside the party he founded after he was expelled for anti-Semitic comments that blurred her efforts to smooth her image as a presidential candidate. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani, File)

PARIS — French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen thought she had cut the political cord with her controversial father by expelling him from the far-right party he founded, but a court ruled Thursday Jean-Marie Le Pen still is the National Front's honorary president.

While campaigning in next spring's presidential election, Marine Le Pen has worked to smooth her image and distance herself from her father's extremist views and anti-Semitic comments. Kicking him out of the party was part of her strategy.

The civil court outside that heard Jean-Marie Le Pen's reinstatement claim upheld the National Front's decision last year to expel him as a rank-and-file member. But the court also ruled that the 88-year-old firebrand can remain the party's honorary president.

As a result, the court ordered the National Front to summon the elder Le Pen to any high-level party meetings and to give him voting rights as an ex-officio member of all the party's governing bodies.

"No statutory provisions specify that the honorary president must be a member of the National Front," the judges said.

The court sentenced the party to pay Jean-Marie Le Pen 23,000 euros ($24,500) in damages and lawyers' fee.

"This can be called a success," his lawyer, Frederic Joachim, told reporters after the ruling was returned.

Joachim had asked the court for 2 million euros ($2.1 million) in damages because "it's a political life they tried to destroy at home and to cast scorn on abroad."

The party's lawyers didn't immediately comment on the ruling, which both sides can appeal.

The National Front ousted the party patriarch for a series of comments, including referring to Nazi gas chambers as a "detail" of World War II history.

Le Pen contends his comments were protected by freedom of expression, though he has been sentenced repeatedly in France for inciting racial hatred and denying crimes against humanity.

Since taking over the National Front in 2011, Marine Le Pen's more mainstream politicking has turned her into one of France's most popular politicians while she campaigns on an anti-immigration, anti-European Union platform.

She has widened the party's electoral base to include former supporters of the traditional conservative and socialist parties frustrated with the status quo, economic stagnation and France's shrinking global clout.

The elder Le Pen, who retains a core of dedicated supporters, has said he hasn't decided whether to support his daughter's presidential bid.

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