Francois Fillon causes storm in France by invoking politician's suicide

Francois Fillon arrives with supporters before a campaign rally in Biarritz, March 24, 2017.
Francois Fillon arrives with supporters before a campaign rally in Biarritz, March 24, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (REUTERS) - The nephew of a French politician who committed suicide 24 years ago said it was "sickening" that beleaguered presidential candidate Francois Fillon made comparisons with his uncle in an effort to show he was being persecuted by the media.

Fillon said the media's portrayal of him as greedy and corrupt "often made me think about Pierre Beregovoy", a former French prime minister who killed himself in 1993.

Asked if he had been tempted to take his own life, Fillon replied: "I understood why you could be brought to this extreme when suddenly the image of you that is presented is the opposite of what you are."

Fillon's comments whipped up a media storm, and were the latest misstep in a campaign that has been badly hurt by media reports of financial impropriety and influence peddling, as well as his attacks on the judiciary in response.

Jean-Michel Beregovoy, the dead politician's nephew, called Fillon's remarks "sickening".

"Someone capable of using the darkest moments of our history (for) such painful, vile arguments doesn't deserve to be president," Beregovoy's nephew, a Green party councillor in Rouen, said.

Beregovoy shot himself in 1993, a month after his Socialist government suffered a humiliating election defeat.

His suicide prompted a soul-searching debate about the role of the media and his political colleagues in pushing him to despair.

Beregovoy's friends and family said he had been particularly hurt by allegations of impropriety over an interest-free loan he accepted from a financier who was later charged with insider trading.

Fillon was the strong favourite to win the presidential election before the scandal surrounding the six-figure salary he paid his wife for work she may not have done sent his popularity tumbling.

The 63-year-old is now under investigation for allegedly misusing taxpayers' money. The fraud investigation widened last week to include luxury suits he received as gifts.

Fillon denies any wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a government plot.

Earlier in the presidential race, Fillon wrongly accused the media of reporting that his wife had committed suicide.