French presidential candidate Francois Fillon to be investigated over 'fake jobs'

Fillon (centre) arrives for a campaign rally in Paris, Feb 24, 2017.
Fillon (centre) arrives for a campaign rally in Paris, Feb 24, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

PARIS (AFP) - Francois Fillon, the conservative candidate in the French presidential election, will face a probe by investigating magistrates into claims he gave his family fake jobs, prosecutors said on Friday (Feb 24).

Fillon, one of the frontrunners in the presidential race, will be investigated for alleged embezzlement of public funds and misappropriation of corporate assets, prosecutors said in a statement.

The magistrates will also look at whether the 62-year-old former prime minister failed to declare the necessary information to parliamentary authorities.

Fillon has not been charged at this point but under French law, investigating magistrates can decide to bring charges.

With the first round of the election two months away, on April 23, the timing of the magistrates' decision could have a crucial bearing on the race.

Fillon has been fighting claims first made a month ago by Le Canard Enchaine newspaper that he used public funds to pay his wife Penelope at least €680,000 (S$1 million) over some 15 years as a parliamentary aide.

She is accused of having barely worked for the salary. Two of Fillon's children were also put on the parliamentary payroll for brief periods.

The Canard Enchaine alleged that Penelope Fillon was also paid tens of thousands of euros by a literary review owned by a billionaire friend of her husband.

Fillon has dismissed the claims as politically motivated but he acknowledged last weekend that his presidential bid had become "difficult", with hecklers often massing at his campaign stops.

The claims had taken a toll on his standings in the polls, but this week surveys showed he had regained ground and moved ahead into second place ahead of centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front (FN), is forecast to win most votes in the first round. But polls currently show she would be beaten by either Fillon or Macron in the all-important runoff on May 7.