PARIS French judges investigating far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen's alleged misuse of European Union funds to pay for party assistants have asked for her European parliamentary immunity to be lifted, a judicial source said on Friday.
The latest twist in Le Pen's legal woes was revealed nine days before the first round of the French presidential election, in which opinion polls see her coming first or second and qualifying for a crucial second round in May.
The French judges' request, signed on March 29 and filed with the prosecutor's office and the justice ministry, is unlikely to be approved by European lawmakers before the election.
Asked on franceinfo TV station whether she was calling on EU lawmakers to reject the request, Le Pen said: "It's a debate that we will have at the European parliament's legal committee" and declined to comment further.
Last month, European lawmakers lifted her immunity in a separate case which concerns her tweeting pictures of Islamic State violence.
Although Le Pen is still consistently seen by pollsters as making the second-round runoff on May 7, she has lost some support in the last few weeks, falling from a high of 27 percent in February to 23.5 percent most recently in a daily Ifop poll of voting intentions for the first round.
Her refusal to go to a police summons over the EU funds allegations, which she based on having immunity as an EU lawmaker, may have played a role in this, some analysts say.
A fringe candidate in the presidential election, far-left car factory worker Philippe Poutou, used this to challenge her during a TV debate earlier this month.
His line - "When we workers are summoned by the police, we do go there, we don't have workers immunity" - left Le Pen silent and was widely picked up on social media.
(Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry; Writing by Michel Rose; Editing by Ingrid Melander)