Marine Le Pen’s attempt to persuade the French electorate that the National Front has changed its image suffered a blow Wednesday after a party counselor was suspended over allegations of Holocaust denial.
Benoit Loeuillet, a National Front regional councilor in the southern region of Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, was suspended after being caught on secret camera claiming mass murder had not taken place during the Holocaust.
In footage, which will be shown as part of a documentary in France, Loeuillet played down the systematic murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust.
“I don’t think there were that many deaths,” he said. “There weren’t six million”.
In a statement on his Facebook page, Loeuillet denied the allegations and said he would take legal action against the journalists involved.
French law strictly prohibits Holocaust denial.
The party took swift action with Secretary-General Nicolas Bay issuing a suspension and announcing in a statement that Loeuillet will face a disciplinary hearing where he could face expulsion.
French presidential hopeful Le Pen has sought to push her party away from allegations of anti-Semitism since taking over the party’s leadership in 2011.
Her father and National Front founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was expelled from the party in 2015 after making comments denying the Holocaust.
During his career, he referred to the gas chambers used by the Nazis to systematically murder the Jewish population as “a detail of history.”
The expulsion of the party’s founder by his daughter caused huge controversy with the two involved in a public falling out.
Le Pen is already facing increased scrutiny ahead of the first round of the elections on April 23 over allegations several members of her staff were paid for non-existent jobs at the European Parliament.
She initially admitted they had been paid while not working, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) said. She later denied having said so.
Le Pen’s fractious relationship with Europe was further exacerbated when MEPs voted to rescind her parliamentary immunity over a case involving violent images she posted on Twitter.
An inquiry was opened under a French law banning the distribution of violent images after Le Pen tweeted images of killings by ISIS militants in December 2015.
Under French law, the maximum penalty for distributing violent images is three years in prison and a fine of up to €75,000 ($79,000).
The loss of her immunity only relates to this case only and not the one being investigated by OLAF.