Europe

France elections: Fillon setback as wife video resurfaces

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The campaign of French presidential hopeful Francois Fillon has suffered a setback with a fresh revelation regarding alleged payments to his wife.

In a 2007 interview aired on television news on Thursday evening, Penelope Fillon explains: "I've never been actually [Francois's] assistant or anything like that."

It seems to contradict Mr Fillon's claims that for years prior she did real work as his parliamentary aide.

Mr Fillon denies wrongdoing.

He says he is the victim of a left-wing plot to destroy him and the French right.

But he is facing growing pressure to pull out of the race for the presidency, with polls pointing to sliding support for the man once deemed the favourite to win the election scheduled for April and May.

Prosecutors began investigating Mr Fillon over claims that payslips showed his wife earned €831,400 (£710,000; $900,000) for years of work as a parliamentary assistant for her husband and his successor when he became a minister.

The couple have said she was legitimately employed as his parliamentary aide, and her lawyer, Pierre Cornut-Gentille, said she handed over evidence of the work she did.

But the claims of wrongdoing have mushroomed, with one economist Alain Minc dubbing the affair "a long shipwreck".

On Thursday, the probe widened to include payments allegedly made to two of his children.

Investigative website Mediapart made a fresh claim, that campaign donations, which should go to the Republicans Party, had instead gone to Mr Fillon's "micro-party", Republican Force.

In the evening, a French TV channel also screened extracts from an interview with his Welsh-born wife in 2007 in which she told British media that she had never worked as his assistant.


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Image caption At the time of the interview Mrs Fillon had been receiving payments as a parliamentary assistant for more than a decade

Transcript of what Penelope Fillon told the Sunday Telegraph in 2007:

"I used to, yes" [get involved in his political life]

"I always went with him on his election campaigns, to the meetings and helped do that side of the - doling out, putting leaflets through doors and things like that.

"Because I liked putting myself at the back of the room and listening to the comments that people make about what he says.

"I used to do bits and pieces in Sable [Sable-sur-Sarthe, the Fillons' political base] when he was mayor, old people's associations and things like that - but I've never been actually his assistant or anything like that. I don't deal with his communication."


Last October, Mrs Fillon told Le Bien Public newspaper: "Up to now, I have never been involved in the political life of my husband."

The matter has thrown Mr Fillon's Republicans Party into disarray, with some MPs urging Mr Fillon to make way in time for another right-wing candidate to fight the election.

On Friday, the senate president, the conservative Gerard Larcher, reaffirmed his backing: "I want to deny with firmness the extravagant allegations of the media: I confirm this morning my total support for @FrancoisFillon."

Last week, Mr Larcher defended the payments to Mrs Fillon on the grounds that - because women parliamentary aides earn more than men - "this is one of the few cases where women get a better treatment than men".

That response was mocked in the press and social media [in French].


What are the claims against the Fillons?

Satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine says Penelope Fillon was paid €831,400 (£710,000; $900,000) for phantom work as her husband's parliamentary assistant from 1988-90, 1998-2002 and 2012-13, and as his successor's Marc Joulaud from 2002-2007.

According to Le Canard, she also received €100,000 for scant work for a literary review owned by a billionaire friend of the family, Marc Ladreit de Lacharriere.

Investigators are also now looking into payments of more than €80,000 (£69,000; $86,000) made to Marie and Charles Fillon when their father was a senator between 2005 and 2007. Mr Fillon said his children were paid as lawyers, for specific tasks - but neither was a qualified lawyer at the time. According to Le Canard, they drew pay cheques not for assignments, but for two full-time jobs.

On Thursday, a new claim emerged - but not one as yet being formally investigated. Mediapart reported that campaign donations to Francois Fillon, which should go into Republicans Party coffers, had instead gone to Mr Fillon's support group, Republican Force.

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