Marine La Pen
Credit: TV Patriotes/Flickr

In 2014, France’s far-right National Front party (recently rebranded the National Rally party) received a $12.2 million loan from the First Czech-Russian Bank, which was controlled by a Russian oligarch. At the time, party leader Marine Le Pen was making pro-Russian statements, but she kept the loan a secret until a French investigative journalist exposed it a few months later. Le Pen acquired the loan thanks to a fellow party-member Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, who has moved between shady private industry (WaPo describes him as “an international consultant for French oil and aerospace firms”) and politics (he’s a member of the European Parliament).

Schaffhauser, according to the Post, “wanted to build an alliance between Europe and Russia to act, he said, as a Christian bulwark against Asia and the Middle East.” He was ultimately put in touch with Roman Popov, a financier who personally owned the First Czech-Russian Bank.

Then in 2016, the bank and nearly 100 others were taken over by the Russian government in an effort by President Vladimir Putin to gain control of Russian banks — especially ones used by oligarchs and mobsters — deemed to be a “threat to Russia’s economic stability.”

The bank was ultimately shut down, but before it went belly up it sold its loan to Le Pen, and it ultimately landed in the hands of a private Moscow aircraft supply company that’s deeply entwined with the Russian military and currently serves the Syrian air force–the same one that has been so effective at killing its own citizens.

Now Russian regulators are trying, through the country’s court system, to take the loan and put it under the charge of the authorities that initially liquidated the First Czech-Russian Bank.

Does this sound like a country that commits highly centralized and sophisticated political conspiracies in rival countries? That this weird little episode resembles the farce of 2016 (Schaffhauser may as well be Paul Manafort) should give those true-believers of a deeply coordinated conspiracy between Trump and the Putin regime pause. It really all might be as stupid this.

Joshua Alvarez

Joshua Alvarez is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal. He edits syndicated opinion columns at the Washington Post, and can be reached at