France's Fillon fights back against scandal

Mr Fillon has campaigned on the basis that he is a rare honest politician.
Mr Fillon has campaigned on the basis that he is a rare honest politician.

Presidential candidate says he has nothing to hide, will publish details of payments to wife

PARIS • French presidential candidate Francois Fillon yesterday struck a defiant tone over a fake job scandal that threatens his campaign and announced he would not pull out of the running.

The conservative former prime minister has come under pressure to quit the race since the newspaper Le Canard Enchaine published a report on Jan 25 alleging that his wife Penelope had been paid hundreds of thousands of euros in state money for work she may never have done.

"I understand the need for me to clarify things and I will do it because I have nothing to hide," Mr Fillon said, according to Reuters.

"Yes I employed my spouse. She was in the job for 15 years."

The practice is legal, though he acknowledged it is no longer seen as acceptable, and he apologised to voters. Details of payments made to his wife would be published online, he added.

Before the news conference, Le Monde newspaper said prosecutors were investigating whether there was a link between a Legion of Honour medal awarded to a wealthy businessman friend of Mr Fillon and a sum of money that businessman paid to Penelope.

Opinion polls show Mr Fillon, 62, has lost his status as favourite to win the presidency to independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, and that far-right leader Marine Le Pen has also gained ground.

With his campaign in turmoil, some senior members of Mr Fillon's The Republicans party have told him to stand aside for someone else in time to build a campaign for a vote that is now just 11 weeks away, Reuters reported.

But Mr Fillon had said at the weekend that he would fight to the end to defend his position as the party's nominee. And his camp distributed three million leaflets entitled "Stop the Manhunt", painting the scandal as a left-wing conspiracy and declaring: "Enough is enough."

It has been a humiliating reversal of fortunes for Mr Fillon, a devout Catholic and father of five children, who campaigned on the basis that he is that rare honest politician.

The accusations also sit uncomfortably with his economic plans for setting France back on its feet, which include slashing public spending and sacking half a million public servants.

Since the scandal broke, he and his wife have been interviewed by the fraud police, his office in Parliament has been searched, and the probe extended to two of his adult children who had been paid by him for stints of work at the Senate.

If he were forced to quit as the centre-right's nominee, it would be an unprecedented move in six decades of French politics.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 07, 2017, with the headline 'France's Fillon fights back against scandal'. Print Edition | Subscribe