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Police gather documents from French Senate in Fillon ‘fake jobs’ probe

AFP archive | Francois Fillon (C) flanked by his wife Penelope looks on during a campaign rally on January 29, 2017 in Paris

Police on Friday took documents from the French Senate linked to two of presidential candidate François Fillon's children, following allegations they had been paid large sums of money for work they may not have done.

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Investigators are looking into the extent of work carried out by Marie and Charles Fillon for their father during his time as a senator between 2005 and 2007, when they allegedly earned between them almost €84,000.

Fillon has steadily lost ground in opinion polls after satirical and investigative weekly newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné first reported on January 25 that the former prime minister had paid his wife Penelope hundreds of thousands of euros for work for him that she did not appear to have done.

French law does not prohibit politicians from employing family members, but it is illegal to put them on the public payroll if they do not do their jobs.

Bad polls

On Friday, a second opinion poll in two days showed a large majority of voters believed the former prime minister should pull out of the election, a two-round contest that opens on April 23.

The 62-year-old vowed at an overnight rally in northeastern France to fight what he called a "demolition exercise", telling a crowd of around 1,000: "People are not seeking justice. They are seeking to destroy me, and beyond me to destroy the Right and steal an election."

Until the scandal over payments to his wife and family surfaced last week, Fillon was enjoying what looked like a near unassailable lead over other presidential contenders, ahead of far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron.

An Odoxa poll for France Info radio showed 61 percent believe Fillon was wrong to persevere in his presidential bid.

Losing credibility

Sniping from his own right-wing political camp continued, primarily from politicians connected to party grandees he beat to win the presidential ticket of Les Républicains party.

"A million euros is no small sum," said Rachida Dati, justice minister during the mandate of Nicolas Sarkozy, president from 2007 to 2012 but loser to Fillon in the ballot that picked the candidate for the 2017 election.

"He (Fillon) does not command unanimous backing," she told RMC radio.

Fillon has denied any wrongdoing since Le Canard Enchaîné newspaper published its allegations.

That scandal, subject of an official inquiry, has broadened since then with further reports by the newspaper of payments 10 years ago to children Marie and Charles, who are now lawyers in their 30s.

On Thursday, a prime-time TV programme broadcast an old interview in which Fillon's wife appeared to say she had no role as an employed assistant.

"I have never been actually his assistant or anything like that. I don't deal with his communication," she said in that 2007 interview with Britain's The Telegraph newspaper.

Fillon had presented himself as a clean-cut, clean-living candidate.

Opinion polls on voting intentions have shown Fillon sliding hard to equal with rival Macron. Whichever of the two makes it to the May 7 runoff round is expected to face Le Pen, and beat her convincingly.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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