PARIS • Conservative French presidential candidate Francois Fillon yesterday vowed to stay in the race despite a magistrate wanting to place him under formal probe for alleged misuse of public funds.
His statement at his campaign headquarters came after a morning of speculation that he was about to withdraw.
Mr Fillon's team was left waiting at an agricultural show when the 62-year-old former premier failed to show up, the latest debacle in an eventful campaign that has seen him fall from front runner to third place in less than two months. The visit to the annual farm fair is a high-profile, unmissable outing for all presidential hopefuls.
Polls show independent centrist Emmanuel Macron consolidating his status as election favourite, and put far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen also among the leading candidates.
The polls show that Mr Macron on course to beat Mr Fillon in the first round vote on April 23, and then defeat Ms Le Pen for the presidency in the run-off on May 7.
Mr Fillon's campaign has been dogged since late January by an official investigation into alleged misuse of taxpayers' money involving hundreds of thousands of euros paid to his wife and family.
He has denied wrongdoing, along with the claims by a satirical newspaper that his wife did little work for her salary as a parliamentary assistant and in other roles.
Yesterday, he revealed that investigating magistrates appointed last week to the case planned to put him under formal investigation, and had summoned him to appear before them on March 15.
The date is just two days before the deadline for candidates to submit their final applications.
He denounced the process as a "political assassination", but said he would cooperate, and appear before the judges as requested. "I won't give in, I won't surrender, I won't pull out, I'll fight to the end," he said.