PARIS (REUTERS) - French presidential candidate Francois Fillon, an outsider to win after involvement in financial scandal, said on Monday (April 3) he would order a parliamentary inquiry into allegations President Francois Hollande interfered in the justice system, if elected.
Once the frontrunner, the conservative former prime minister's poll ratings have slumped since allegations surfaced that he paid his wife and sons hundreds of thousands of euros of public money for minimal work.
Although some polls show his support recovering slightly with less than three weeks to the April 23 first round, he is well behind far-right leader Marine Le Pen and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, who are tipped to go through to a May 7 run-off.
Fillon, 63, who is being investigated by magistrates over the jobs allegations and over a gift of expensive suits, insisted on his innocence. "If I had the slightest doubt about my guilt I wouldn't be a candidate in the presidential election," he told BFM TV.
He said he was the victim of "manipulation" and believed his case was being closely followed "by the highest authorities".
He drew back from previous allegations that Hollande, a Socialist president who is not standing for a second term, had personally led a smear campaign against him. He said he could not prove this.
He said however that prosecutors should open an inquiry into allegations made in a book by two journalists from the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine that Hollande had judicial wiretaps that interested him sent to his office.
"Prosecutors should take up this case. If they don't do so and if I am elected president, there will be a parliamentary commission of enquiry," Fillon said.
Hollande's office has rejected Fillon's accusations and denied interference in the justice system.
Fillon said that, given the investigations against him, there was "every chance" his own phone was tapped.
Fillon also said that Francois Baroin, a former finance minister, would be a "very good choice" for prime minister if he won election to the Elysee.
Investors are concerned the wave of frustration with political elites behind Britain's vote to leave the European Union and the election of Donald Trump in the United States could sweep Le Pen into power in France.
The National Front leader would take France out of the euro and hold a referendum on EU membership.
The latest poll, by Opinionway, showed Le Pen, with 25 per cent in the first round, one point ahead of Macron and six points ahead of Fillon.
It showed Macron would easily beat Le Pen in the run-off, but former Prime Minister Manuel Valls said last week he believed Le Pen's potential score was seriously under-rated.
Macron told Le Monde in an interview on Monday that Fillon and Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon were wrong to focus their attacks on him, when Le Pen was the real threat.
"Those who say Marine Le Pen can't win the second round are the same as those who said Trump could never win. We don't know what can happen if she is far ahead in the first round," he said.