Allegations of fake news and hacking attempts are dominating the end of France’s tense presidential campaign, as centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right rival Marine Le Pen try to win over voters before Sunday’s run-off.
Paris prosecutors launched a preliminary investigation on Thursday into whether fake news was being used to influence the voting, as frontrunner Macron and populist Le Pen held their last big campaign events.
There has been intense anxiety in France over the possibility viral misinformation or hackers could influence the vote, as in the 2016 US presidential election.
Those fears have largely failed to materialise.
Then Thursday, Macron’s campaign filed suit against unknown source “X” after Le Pen suggested during their debate on Wednesday that the former banker could have an offshore account.
“I hope we won’t find out you have an offshore account in the Bahamas,” Le Pen said.
She appeared to be referring to two sets of apparent forgeries, published just hours before the TV debate, purporting to show Macron was involved with a Caribbean bank and a firm based on the island of Nevis.
On France Inter radio, Macron blamed Le Pen for spreading “fake news” and said he had never held a bank account “in any tax haven whatsoever”.
In a subsequent twist, Le Pen’s campaign said a far-left hacker was arrested this week and confessed to repeatedly targeting its website.
Le Pen gave a fiery speech in a field in northern France on Thursday, with an emotional appeal to desperate farmers, the jobless and the disillusioned.
Painting herself as the “voice of the people”, she said her rival would continue the painful status quo.
“Don’t let them steal the election,” she warned, summoning voters to join Sunday’s “rendez-vous with history”.
Macron, meanwhile, was on France’s southern edge in the Pyrenees town of Albi, visiting disgruntled factory workers before holding his last rally in which he called on voters from the left and the right to choose his reformist, pro-European platform.