Fillon counts on voter anger as probe into fraud charges begins

French presidential election candidate for the right-wing Les Republicains party Francois Fillon delivers a speech during a campaign rally in Pertuis, France.
French presidential election candidate for the right-wing Les Republicains party Francois Fillon delivers a speech during a campaign rally in Pertuis, France.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS • French presidential candidate Francois Fillon says he has the backing of angry voters after magistrates placed him under formal investigation on suspicion of misusing public money.

With less than six weeks to go until the first round of voting, Mr Fillon has been unable to draw a line under allegations that he paid his wife hundreds of thousands of euros of public money for little work.

Tuesday's decision put the right-wing politician one step closer to a trial and covered a wide range of grounds: suspicion of embezzling public funds, complicity in misappropriating funds, receiving the funds and not declaring assets fully, a judicial source said.

"There's been a manipulation of events against me with one objective: to stop me being a candidate in the presidential election," Mr Fillon told Radio Classique, again denying allegations that his wife was paid from public funds for a fake job.

"There's a very strong movement going on. There's anger among voters on the right and in the centre who don't want to see their election stolen."

The comments came as new problems piled up for the presidential contenders, with almost daily revelations in the press and fresh legal investigations creating a cloud of suspicion overhanging the two-round vote due next month and in May.

Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen confirmed to the Agence France-Presse on Tuesday that tax authorities were pursuing her and her father, former party leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, over the value of their family properties.

The anti-immigration, anti-European Union leader faces several other investigations into campaign financing and the misuse of money at the European Parliament, where she has a seat.

The Paris prosecutor's office has also opened a preliminary inquiry into a state-financed event attended by centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron last year while he was a minister. The probe into the organisation of a promotional evening for French high-tech companies in Las Vegas does not target Mr Macron personally, but could add to disillusionment among French voters with their political class.

Under French law, being put under formal investigation means there is "serious or consistent evidence" that points to probable involvement of a suspect in a crime.

It is a step towards a trial, but many investigations have been dropped without going to court.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2017, with the headline 'Fillon counts on voter anger as probe into fraud charges begins'. Print Edition | Subscribe