Insiders from Mr Macron’s En Marche! team claimed that they had been the victim of a “massive” hack that had dumped emails, documents and financial information online in the final few hours of campaigning on Friday ahead of the second and final round of voting in the presidential contest.
The leak emerged as polls predicted Emmanuel Macron, a former Rothschild investment banker and economy minister, was on course for victory over far-right leader Marine Le Pen in Sunday’s election, with the last surveys showing his lead widening to around 62 per cent to 38.
The French election commission said in a statement: “On the eve of the most important election for our institutions, the commission calls on everyone present on internet sites and social networks, primarily the media, but also all citizens, to show responsibility and not to pass on this content, so as not to distort the sincerity of the ballot.”
Emmanuel Macron (L) and Marine Le Pen are in the race to be the next French president
However, the commission – which supervises the electoral process – may find it difficult to enforce its rules in an era where people get much of their news online, information flows freely across borders and many users are anonymous.
French media covered the hack in various ways, with left-leading Liberation giving it prominence on its website, but television news channels opting not to mention it.
Le Monde newspaper said on its website it would not publish the content of any of the leaked documents before the election, partly because the huge amount of data meant there was not enough time to report on it properly, but also because the dossiers had been published on purpose 48 hours before the election with the clear aim of affecting the vote.
It said in a statement: ”If these documents contain revelations, Le Monde will of course publish them after having investigated them, respecting our journalistic and ethical rules, and without allowing ourselves to be exploited by the publishing calendar of anonymous actors.”
As much as 9 gigabytes of data purporting to be documents from the Macron campaign were posted on a profile called EMLEAKS to Pastebin, a site that allows anonymous document sharing.
It was not immediately clear who was responsible, but Macron’s political movement said in a statement the hack was an attempt to destabilise democracy and to damage the party.
Emmanuel Macron at a rally for his party En Marche!
En Marche! said the leaked documents dealt with the normal operations of a campaign and included some information on campaign accounts.
It said the hackers had mixed false documents with authentic ones to “sow doubt and disinformation.”
Sunday’s election is seen as the most important in France for decades, with two diametrically opposed views of Europe and the country’s place in the world at stake.
Marine Le Pen represents the far-right in France
Ms Le Pen would close borders and quit the euro currency, while Macron wants closer European co-operation and an open economy.
In France, police union Alternative Police warned in a statement that there was a risk of violence on election day by activists of the far-right or far-left.
Extreme-right student activists burst into the office of Macron’s political movement in the southeastern city of Lyon on Friday evening, setting off smoke grenades and scattering false bank notes bearing Macron’s picture, police said.
Emmanuel Macron is bidding to be the next president in France
France is the latest nation to see a major election overshadowed by allegations of manipulation through cyber hacking after U.S. intelligence agencies said in January that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered hacking of parties tied to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to influence the election on behalf of Republican Donald Trump.
Vitali Kremez, director of research with New York-based cyber intelligence firm Flashpoint, told Reuters his review indicated that APT 28, a group tied to the GRU, the Russian military intelligence directorate, was behind the leak.
Marine Le Pen at a TV interview
Macron’s campaign has previously complained about attempts to hack its emails, blaming Russian interests in part for the cyber attacks.
The Kremlin has denied it was behind any such attacks, although Macron’s camp renewed complaints against Russian media and a hackers’ group operating in Ukraine.