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French presidential candidate charged in fake jobs scandal

Francois Fillon faces serious legal trouble just 6 weeks from the election.

rench conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon leaves his home in Paris earlier today.
rench conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon leaves his home in Paris earlier today.
Image: AP Photo/Christophe Ena

FRENCH RIGHT WING candidate Francois Fillon was charged yesterday with several offences over a fake jobs scandal, worsening his unprecedented legal problems which have upended the race just six weeks from voting.

Fillon, a conservative who was once frontrunner, has been battered by a stream of revelations since late January, focused on parliamentary jobs given to his wife and his links to a billionaire businessman.

Investigating magistrates charged Fillon on yesterday, a day earlier than expected, with misuse of public money, misuse of corporate assets, and failing to declare his assets to a public watchdog, legal sources told AFP.

“The hearing was brought forward so that it could take place in a calm manner,” lawyer Antonin Levy told AFP.

Fillon’s Welsh-born wife Penelope was paid hundreds of thousands of euros from public funds between 1986 and 2013, but she is accused of doing little work for the salary.

From May 2012 to December 2013, while employed by Fillon’s parliamentary office, she was on the payroll of a magazine owned by tycoon Marc Ladreit de Lacharriere, who also gave Fillon an undeclared loan.

Macron trip probed

Fillon’s problems have benefited centrist independent Emmanuel Macron in particular, as well as far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who are shown in opinion polls as the likely top two candidates in the first round of voting on 23 April.

Polls suggest 39-year-old Macron would beat Le Pen in a decisive run-off on 7 May – but after Donald Trump’s victory in the United States and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, analysts caution against bold predictions.

France Election French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen speaks to a invited guest in Paris. Source: AP Photo/Michel Euler

Macron’s campaign was buffeted yesterday by news that the Paris prosecutors’ office had opened a probe into the organisation of a 2016 event for hi-tech French companies in Las Vegas financed by the economy ministry which he headed at the time.

Prosecutors are looking into whether there was favouritism in selecting PR firm Havas to organise the evening costing nearly 400,000 euros ($425,000) without a public tender — at which Macron was the star speaker.

The candidate, head of his new “En Marche” (On the Move) movement, is not targeted personally at this stage and denies any wrongdoing.

Le Pen also faces multiple investigations over campaign financing and misuse of money at the European Parliament.

Two aides, including her personal assistant, have been charged but she has refused to reply to summons from judges over the parliamentary expenses case.

Fillon defiant

Following reports in the Canard Enchaine newspaper at the end of January, Fillon admitted to employing Penelope and two of their children as parliamentary assistants.

The explosive so-called Penelopegate scandal has dominated the campaign since then, leading to infighting in the Republicans and turning an election that looked difficult to lose into an ordeal for the party.

After initially saying he would withdraw from the presidential race if charged, Fillon has vowed to continue, calling the investigation an attempted “political assassination”.

Speaking to French media yesterday, he repeated his assertion that the investigation was designed to discredit him, saying that the judicial calendar seemed to be “coordinated with the political campaign”.

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© – AFP 2017

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