Tags: francois fillon | french | presidency | scandal | penelopegate

Francois Fillon Won't Drop Bid for French Presidency Despite Scandal

Image: Francois Fillon Won't Drop Bid for French Presidency Despite Scandal

Francois Fillon, former French prime minister, member of the Republicans political party and 2017 presidential election candidate of the French center-right, reacts as he makes a declaration to the media at his campaign headquarters in Paris, France, March 1, 2017. (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

Wednesday, 01 Mar 2017 03:17 PM

Francois Fillon said Wednesday he won't let charges in an expenses scandal dubbed "Penelopegate" stop his bid for the French presidency.

The furor surrounding the candidate of the rightwing Republicans party candidate is explained here in five key questions.

- Who is Francois Fillon? -

He was prime minister from 2007 to 2012 under president Nicolas Sarkozy, the high point of a political career spanning nearly four decades.

A staunch Catholic, the 62-year-old emerged as the surprise nominee for the Republicans party in November, promising to slash public spending, cut bureaucracy and adopt family-friendly policies.

Campaigning on his reputation for integrity, Fillon swept past the scandal-tainted Sarkozy and ex-premier Alain Juppe, himself convicted over a 1980s party finance scandal.

Before the expenses scandal broke in January, voter surveys had consistently shown Fillon as the most likely winner of the two-round presidential election in April and May.

- What is he accused of? -

On Jan. 25, the satirical and investigative newspaper Canard Enchaine published the first of two exposes alleging that Fillon had placed his Welsh-born wife Penelope and two of their children on the public payroll, earning the family nearly 900,000 euros ($950,000) before taxes.

The paper said Penelope earned around 700,000 euros over 15 years as a parliamentary assistant to Fillon -- or to his substitute in the assembly while he was PM -- despite scant evidence that she did any work.

Fillon also paid their children Marie and Charles 84,000 euros as parliamentary assistants from 2005-07, the paper revealed.

In addition, Penelope was paid around 5,000 euros a month between May 2012 and December 2013 by the literary magazine Revue des Deux Mondes, owned by a friend of Fillon, the Canard Enchaine said, again charging that this amounted to a fake job.

- Is this illegal? -

Fillon announced Wednesday that he will be charged on March 15 with abusing public funds, a criminal offense.

Employing a family member as a parliamentary aide is a widespread practice in France and not illegal, unlike in Germany or at the European Parliament.

Fillon admits to paying his wife and children. But there are suspicions that Penelope did no work for her parliamentary salary, which exceeded 10,000 euros pre-tax a month in 2007.

Penelope had neither a security pass for the parliament building nor a work email account. Moreover, she has been a low-key political wife known to prefer life at the couple's country chateau with their five children and horses to life among the Parisian chattering classes.

"Up until now, I was never involved in my husband's political life," she said last year.
Fillon claimed that she meant to say she never played a frontline role.

- What does Fillon say? -

On Wednesday, the candidate dug in his heels, insisting he was the victim of a "political assassination" and saying he would prove to prosecutors that his family members indeed worked for their pay.

Without naming names, Fillon has previously pointed the finger at "the Left" as being behind the revelations.

Fraud investigators interviewed the couple separately for five hours and seized documents from Fillon's parliamentary office in late January.

Early last month the candidate apologised for having hired Penelope, saying he deeply regretted the "error."

- Can he survive, and who stands to gain? -

The scandal has dragged down Fillon's poll numbers, and the former frontrunner is now fighting to avoid crashing out in the election's first round on April 23.

The main beneficiary could be 39-year-old centrist Emmanuel Macron, who polls show has already picked support as a result of Fillon's problems. Macron currently stands to go through to the May 7 run-off against far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Although the 48-year-old anti-immigrant and anti-EU candidate Le Pen is currently not forecast to triumph in the end, she has narrowed the gap between herself and her main rivals.

Le Pen is caught up in an expenses scandal of her own, but unlike Fillon the allegations have so far not damaged her support.

© AFP 2017

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Francois Fillon said Wednesday he won't let charges in an expenses scandal dubbed "Penelopegate" stop his bid for the French presidency.
francois fillon, french, presidency, scandal, penelopegate
Wednesday, 01 Mar 2017 03:17 PM
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