French presidential hopeful Fillon faces fresh graft allegations

Mr Fillon and his wife Penelope at a rally in Paris. The conservative former prime minister had seemed likely to win the presidency until a media report last week accused his wife of receiving a salary from fake jobs.
Mr Fillon and his wife Penelope at a rally in Paris. The conservative former prime minister had seemed likely to win the presidency until a media report last week accused his wife of receiving a salary from fake jobs.PHOTO: REUTERS

Claims add to worries for Republican party candidate considered to be the front runner

PARIS • French presidential hopeful Francois Fillon yesterday faced fresh allegations of misusing public funds, following claims that his wife had been paid for a fake parliamentary job.

French investigative website Mediapart reported late on Saturday that Mr Fillon had pocketed money personally while he was a member of the French Senate, which he left in 2007.

The website estimated that he had "siphoned off" around €25,000 (S$38,000) from funds earmarked for assistants in the French Upper House. The Journal Du Dimanche newspaper said he had written seven cheques to himself between 2005 and 2007 for "a total of around €21,000".

A spokesman for Mr Fillon declined to comment, saying only that a judicial process was under way.

The claims add to mounting worries for the right-wing Republican party candidate, who had been considered the front runner for the April election.

Mr Fillon warned yesterday that muckraking against mainstream candidates in the race for the Elysee palace could end up propelling the far-right National Front party to power.

"If we continue to try to destroy credible candidates in the presidential election, this is how it will end," he told the Journal Du Dimanche in an interview.

Mr Fillon vowed to fight the accusations "all the way", but said he had never expected the presidential campaign to be so hard.

"I had no idea it would be so violent and drop that low," he said.

Recent polls have indicated support falling slightly for Mr Fillon, whose nearest rivals are shown as far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron.

Mr Fillon was set to address a rally in Paris yesterday.

The French authorities have opened a preliminary inquiry into the allegations, first published by the Le Canard Enchaine weekly, that Mr Fillon's wife benefited from fake jobs. The newspaper said that his Welsh-born spouse Penelope had earned €500,000 from 1998 to 2012 working as his parliamentary assistant.

It said its reporters had been unable to find anyone who could testify to the work of the mother of five, who has always had a low-key role in her husband's career.

Mr Fillon said his wife had always worked for him during his four-decade political career, carrying out tasks such as speech editing and representing him at events. He told the Journal Du Dimanche that he would "not submit to a trial by media", adding that he had already handed over wage slips to investigators.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2017, with the headline 'French presidential hopeful Fillon faces fresh graft allegations'. Print Edition | Subscribe