PARIS (AP) — A French appeals court upheld the far-right National Front's decision to expel party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen over anti-Semitic remarks, a stinging defeat for him and a victory for his daughter and rival Marine.
Friday's decision by the court in Versailles was the latest episode in a bitter power struggle between controversial father and ambitious daughter over the identity of the anti-immigration party. The elder Le Pen anointed his daughter to succeed him in 2011 and now bemoans fundamental decisions she has made.
Marine Le Pen and party decision-makers expelled the elder Le Pen in 2015 for a series of remarks considered a liability to the party's image, including repeating a remark that Nazi gas chambers are a "detail" in World War II history.
Jean-Marie Le Pen sued — his lawyer said the decision to expel him was made by an "execution squad" — but a lower court in 2016 confirmed the ouster. In the appeals court ruling Friday, the judge echoed the lower court's arguments that National Front was justified in removing Le Pen as a rank-and-file member because of damage he caused to the party.
However the court also ordered the National Front to pay thousands of euros in damages and other costs — and confirmed the lower court's ruling that the 89-year-old Le Pen can retain the status of party president for life, which allows him access to high-level party meetings.
Jean-Marie Le Pen's lawyer welcomed that decision as a sign of victory, according to French media reports.
It may be short-lived: The party leadership hopes to eliminate the president-for-life position at a party congress next month, breaking the father's last ties with the party he founded in 1972.
The congress is also expected to vote on a new name for the National Front in a final break with the party's past. Jean-Marie Le Pen said in a Tweet last month that a name change would amount to "veritable treason" toward decades of party followers.
At the time of the anti-Semitic remarks, Marine Le Pen was in the midst of an image clean-up campaign ahead of the 2017 presidential race, and she and her cohorts felt her father's verbal provocations risked undoing her. The elder Le Pen contended his remarks fall into the domain of free expression.
Marine Le Pen was runnerup in last year's French presidential election but she suffered a resounding loss to Emmanuel Macron, and her party is now in a tailspin.
Neither Le Pen was present for Friday's ruling.