The leader of a new far-right bloc in the European Parliament has been found guilty of holocaust denial and given a suspended three-month prison sentence.
Bruno Gollnisch, the number two in Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National party in France, was also fined $6,500 by a court in Lyon.
The court ruled on Thursday that Gollnisch had “disputed a crime against humanity” in remarks he made during a news conference in the French city on October 11, 2004.
Gollnisch was not in court for the verdict as he was attending a session of the European Parliament, where he recently became the leader of a new far-right political group called Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty.
The judge also ordered Gollnisch to pay $71,400 in damages to the plaintiffs, which included the French campaign group SOS Racisme, and to pay for the judgment to be published in the newspapers that originally printed his remarks.
In its ruling the court said Gollnisch had called into question the number of Jews killed during World War II and whether gas chambers had been used to kill them.
“Historians have the right to discuss the number of deaths and the way that they died. Fifty years after the facts we can discuss the real number of deaths,” Gollnisch was quoted as saying at the time.
He also said that the “existence of the gas chambers is for historians to discuss”.
Gollnisch said in a statement: “Nothing is more unbearable than the injustice of the justice. I will naturally appeal this ruling.”
“This scandal goes beyond my personal case in a country that is otherwise the most advanced in the world in the area of freedom of expression.”
Gollnisch’s comments about the Holocaust sparked uproar among Jewish and anti-racism groups, and the European Parliament stripped him of his legislative immunity from prosecution.
Gollnisch claims his political agenda is shared by 23 million Europeans and says his new movement is not extremist.
It was the admission of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU at the start of 2007 that enabled far-right groups to come together as an official bloc in the Stasbourg parliament.
When the body met for its first plenary session, 20 MEPs signed up to the new ultra-nationalist party which is automatically entitled to up to one million euros of funding from the European taxpayer.
The verdict on Gollnisch came just hours before Jacques Chirac, the French president, honoured nearly 3,000 French people who rescued Jews from the Holocaust, in a ceremony at the Pantheon in central Paris.
It is the first such formal tribute to the group, known as the “Righteous of France”.
Chirac, who 12 years ago became the first French president to recognise the national government’s role in the mass deportation of Jews during the Holocaust, also extended the tribute to those anonymous French nationals who risked their lives to save Jews.
He said: “Thousands of French men and women, from all social classes and professions, and from throughout the political spectrum, made — without questioning it — the right choice.
“They all know the risk they were running: Arrest by the Gestapo, interrogations, torture, and sometimes even deportation and death.”