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France's Macron takes legal action over Le Pen 'defamation' debate days before election

Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron arrive to pose prior to the start of a live brodcast face-to-face televised debate on May 3, 2017.
ERIC FEFERBERG | AFP | Getty Images
Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron arrive to pose prior to the start of a live brodcast face-to-face televised debate on May 3, 2017.

The favorite for the French presidency, Emmanuel Macron, has filed a lawsuit following comments made by his far-right rival Marine Le Pen in which she implied the independent centrist politician owns a secret offshore bank account in the Caribbean.

Macron, who has denied he holds any such account, filed a legal complaint on Thursday which prompted the French prosecutor's office to formally open an investigation ahead of Sunday's second round run-off vote. The lawsuit is not against Le Pen but is aimed at anyone spreading the rumors online.

During an intense and at times vitriolic live television debate between the two presidential candidates on Wednesday, Le Pen told Macron she hoped "we will not find out that you have an offshore account in the Bahamas" in an apparent allusion to online documents which attempted to link the political frontrunner to a Caribbean bank.

Macron replied, "No, Madame Le Pen, because that's defamation."

'Fake news and lies'

The two-and-a-half-hour debate resulted in a comfortable victory for the former economy minister with 63 percent of observers suggesting Macron had outperformed his adversary, according to a snap poll by French broadcaster BFMTV. Macron is expected to secure his place in the Elysee Palace on May 7 with a similar majority.

Macron said in a radio interview Thursday that such insinuations were "fakes news and lies" which had surfaced from "websites, some of which are linked to Russian interests."

The allegations of a secret offshore bank account appeared to have been spread by right-wing websites and social media with Macron's supporters pointing out some of the sites had also supported U.S. President Donald Trump throughout the U.S. election.

Macron's team sought to show exactly how the accusations were spread online in the hours leading up to Wednesday's televised debate by publishing an exhaustive report of how such websites attempted to damage the French presidential hopeful.

Speaking on BFMTV on Thursday, Le Pen conceded she did not have any proof to justify repeating the claims from the previous evening. She insisted she had not accused Macron of any such illegal or dishonest behavior and said, "If I wanted to do so I would have done it yesterday. I've just asked him the question. If I had proof, I would have claimed it yesterday."