French investigators on Tuesday searched parliamentary offices as part of an investigation into allegations that the wife of conservative presidential frontrunner François Fillon was paid €500,000 for work she didn’t perform.
The raid was the latest twist in a suspected embezzlement scandal that emerged one week ago and has already damaged Fillon’s presidential bid.
Investigator's did not search Fillon’s offices in the lower house National Assembly on Tuesday morning, but rather administrative offices in charge of parliamentary payrolls.
Fillon, who served as France’s prime minister from 2007 to 2012 and has since served as a member of parliament, won the conservative Les Républicains party’s presidential nomination in November.
He has since been touted as the frontrunner in the election, but in recent days has struggled to respond to allegations that his wife enjoyed generous wages as an assistant for him and his successor, but was rarely seen in parliament.
The Canard Enchaîné weekly published a report last week showing Penelope Fillon earned as much as €7,000 per month as Fillon’s assistant – which is not illegal in itself – but added that it could find no evidence she had actually done any work.
French financial prosecutors launched a preliminary probe into embezzlement and abuse of public funds in the wake of the newspaper report.
MP Christian Jacob, the parliamentary leader of Les Républicains, on Tuesday confirmed that offices had been raided, but defended Fillon.
“François Fillon himself has asked for the investigation to proceed quickly, and the justice system must do its work,” Jacob told reporters at the National Assembly. “But what I can tell you as that all Républicains lawmakers support François Fillon and are standing behind our candidate.”
The Fillon couple was interviewed on Monday afternoon by investigators, who are trying to determine if their preliminary probe should lead to a full judicial enquiry.
The conservative former premier has said he would abandon his presidential bid if placed under formal criminal investigation. A formal enquiry by an investigating magistrate could take months to reach a conclusion.
Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière – a businessman and friend of Fillon – has also been questioned in connection to the allegations. He owns the literary review La Revue des Deux Mondes, which Le Canard Enchaîné said paid Penelope Fillon another 100,000 euros for very little work.
Fillon has defended his wife’s work as real. Declaring his love for her at a political rally in Paris on Sunday, he repeated that the allegations are nothing but a smear campaign against them.
The preliminary probe has nevertheless knocked his campaign off course and dented the wholesome image the devout Catholic has cultivated.
Opinion polls show Fillon losing ground to far-right candidates Marine Le Pen and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron in the presidential race.
If Fillon drops his presidential bid, time is running out for the main opposition Républicains party to choose another candidate.
Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppé, the runner-up in France’s conservative primary, on Friday rejected the idea that he could fill in as the presidential candidate if Fillon exits the race.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Date created : 2017-01-31