France's Fillon placed under formal investigation over 'fake jobs', lawyer says
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French presidential candidate François Fillon has been placed under formal investigation into allegations he had his wife and children paid hundreds of thousands of euros for parliamentary jobs they may never have performed.
Investigating judges are now looking into allegations that Fillon profited from the misuse of public funds and improperly declared his assets among other charges, the national financial prosecutor's office said Tuesday.
Being placed under formal investigation in France is akin to facing preliminary charges but does not always lead to a trial.
This latest legal decision further damages the former prime minister and onetime front-runner's chances for victory in France's upcoming presidential election, the first round of which is scheduled for April 23 with a second round to follow on May 7.
Fillon has been plagued by allegations that he arranged to have his family paid handsomely for work they did not actually perform. French media have reported that his Welsh-born wife Penelope was paid almost €1 million to serve as his parliamentary assistant. But investigations have found no evidence that she did any government work and Fillon herself has denied ever having worked as an aide to her husband.
"I have never been actually his assistant or anything like that,” she told the Telegraph in 2007.
But earlier this month she appeared to backtrack on these statements, saying that she was, in fact, employed by her husband.
"He needed someone to do a lot of different tasks, and if it wasn't for me, he would have paid someone to do it, so we decided it would be me," Penelope told Le Journal du Dimanche.
French lawmakers are allowed to employ family members but investigators are still looking for evidence of what work she performed.
Two of Fillon's five children were also employed as parliamentary assistants while he was a senator for an additional €84,000.
Police raided the Fillons' country manor house near the northwestern town of Le Mans and their Paris apartment earlier this month.
Fillon has denied wrongdoing and vowed to continue his presidential campaign.
Under growing pressure, French conservative #Fillon refuses -again - to bow out presidential race— Joseph Bamat (@josephbamat) March 5, 2017
But the former front-runner's star has steadily fallen since the scandal broke. Polls now show he will be knocked out in the first round, allowing far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron to progress to the run-off, with most surveys predicting an eventual victory for Macron.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)