Fillon pay row: New claim over wife's 'fake jobs'

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Le Canard Enchaine said Welsh-born Penelope Fillon received over €800,000 as an aide

France's centre-right presidential candidate, Francois Fillon, has been hit by further allegations on the day that anti-corruption police raided his office in parliament.

Satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine said last week that his wife Penelope had been paid hundreds of thousands of euros for fake jobs.

Now it has reported that she earned far more and for longer.

Mr Fillon hit back, calling the claims a campaign to destroy his candidacy.

"Never in the history of the Fifth Republic has such an operation of very professional slander been launched in an attempt to eliminate a candidate," he said.

He earlier insisted he and his wife had nothing to hide. His campaign team told Le Monde that the fresh allegations did not change a thing but just gave a more impressive figure.

Nevertheless, his reputation and poll ratings have been badly damaged by the claims.

The newspaper said on Tuesday that Welsh-born Penelope Fillon had been paid €830,000 (£710,000; $900,000) for working as a parliamentary aide to her husband and his deputy over two periods, €330,000 more than it originally alleged.

That was on top of the €100,000 that it says she was paid by a literary review owned by a wealthy friend of her husband called Marc Ladreit de Lacharriere.

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Francois Fillon along with Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron are the front-runners in the presidential race

Two of the couple's children, the weekly added, had been paid €84,000 for working as Mr Fillon's parliamentary assistants. Mr Fillon has already said he employed the pair for specific tasks.

MPs and senators in France are allowed to employ family members, but Le Canard Enchaine said it had found no evidence that Penelope Fillon had ever done any work.

The couple were interviewed separately on Monday by investigators for more than five hours as part of a preliminary inquiry that may or may not lead to formal investigation.

On Tuesday morning, anti-corruption police raided parliamentary offices, reportedly in a search for contracts covering Mrs Fillon's work there.

Opinion poll blow

Mr Fillon's lawyer, Antonin Levy, told French radio that the candidate had not had a constituency office while working as an MP and had instead used his home.

"And who is at home? Penelope Fillon of course," he said.

The head of the parliamentary Republican party, Christian Jacob, has said that MPs are unanimous in their support for Mr Fillon, 62, and are standing by him.

But an opinion poll for BFMTV on Tuesday suggested that 76% of French voters were unconvinced by his explanation and the affair has already hit his poll ratings.

He is now running neck and neck with centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, who is also likely to pick up votes from disenchanted supporters on the right of the Socialist party.

Both are a few points behind far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who would win 25% of the vote, but either candidate would beat her in the second round run-off in May, polls suggest.

Mr Fillon, who campaigned on his reputation for integrity and beat former president Nicolas Sarkozy and former prime minister Alain Juppe to his party's nomination, had been leading in opinion polls.

He has vowed to slash 500,000 public sector jobs, cut benefits and increase working time.

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