The European Parliament has accused French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen's party of defrauding it of nearly €5m in expenses, more than twice an initial estimate, a French legal source has said.

The parliament accuses Ms Le Pen's anti-EU Front National of using funds meant for parliamentary assistants to pay staff for party work in France between 2012 and 2017. 

The allegations, which Ms Le Pen denies, have triggered an investigation in France.

The parliament had initially estimated the amount of the contested salaries at €1.9m but now believes the party wrongfully expensed €4,978,122, the source said, quoting a note to French investigators from the parliament's legal team.

Patrick Maisonneuve, a lawyer for the parliament, confirmed the amount to AFP.

The parliament believes 17 Front National politicians in the European Parliament, including Ms Le Pen, used European money to pay assistants for work outside the assembly, the source said. 

French investigators have not said how many of the jobs are in question.

Ms Le Pen, who came second in the first round of the presidential election behind centrist Emmanuel Macron, has portrayed the allegations as part of a plot to stymie her political ambitions. 

She will go up against Mr Macron in a run-off vote on 7 May.

In March, Ms Le Pen invoked her MEP's immunity in refusing to submit to questioning by investigating magistrates. 

Her chief of staff Catherine Griset and another party official have been charged with concealment.