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Penelope Fillon said in 2007 she ‘never worked for husband’

Eric Fefferberg/ AFP | Francois Fillon and his wife Penelope arrive for a campaign rally on January 29, 2017 in Paris.

Penelope Fillon, embroiled in a “fake jobs” scandal that is threatening to undermine her husband François Fillon’s French presidential ambitions, allegedly told a British newspaper in 2007 she had never worked as his assistant.

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Penelope Fillon apparently told British newspaper the Sunday Telegraph in 2007 “that she had never worked for her husband”, according to journalist Elise Lucet of France 2’s Envoyé Special television programme, which was due to air excerpts of the interview on Thursday evening.

Fillon's 'just not credible anymore'

Lucet's colleague Yves Martinet told BFMTV that it was a “very nice and easygoing interview for a written portrait piece” that was published after Penelope Fillon’s husband, François Fillon, was appointed prime minister by then president Nicolas Sarkozy.

“The photographer accompanying them filmed the entire interview, and caught everything she said,” Martinet said. “This included her saying she had never been her husband’s assistant, and had never done any communications work for him either.”

Penelope Fillon’s lawyer, Pierre Cornut-Gentille, defended his client on Thursday, saying her comments were taken out of context.

“I regret that a few phrases, which have been deliberately isolated and taken out of context, have given rise to such media attention while a judicial investigation is underway,” he said in a statement.

Cornut-Gentille added that Penelope Fillon had given investigators “details proving the existence of an effective job”.

It is not illegal for French politicians to employ family members, but it is illegal to put them on the public payroll if they are not actively doing a job.

François Fillon admits to employing Penelope as his “parliamentary assistant”, with French satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchainé reporting that she earned an average of more than €10,000 a month in 2007 alone.

However, Penelope is accused of having barely worked for her salary. In addition, Penelope worked at a literary review owned by a billionaire friend of her husband's where she allegedly earned another €100,000 in 2012 and 2013.

Fillon insists his wife’s work was 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.

Race for the Elysée: topsy-turvy in 100 days

The preliminary probe has nevertheless knocked his campaign off course and dented the wholesome image the devout Catholic has cultivated.

Conservative former premier Fillon has said he would abandon his presidential bid if placed under formal criminal investigation.

Opinion polls show Fillon losing ground to far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron in the presidential race.

If Fillon drops his presidential bid, then the main opposition Les Républicains party would be in a race against time to choose another candidate.

Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppé, the runner-up in France’s conservative primary, has rejected the idea that he could fill in as the presidential candidate if Fillon quits the race.

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