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French ex-PM Fillon tells Paris court 'fake jobs' scandal caused ‘irreparable damage'

Former French Prime minister Francois Fillon returns to the courtroom at the Paris' courthouse, on February 27, 2020, for the hearing of his trial over claims he embezzled over €1 million euros in an alleged fake-jobs fraud.
Former French Prime minister Francois Fillon returns to the courtroom at the Paris' courthouse, on February 27, 2020, for the hearing of his trial over claims he embezzled over €1 million euros in an alleged fake-jobs fraud. AFP - STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN

François Fillon, once the front-runner to become France’s president but who fell from grace after being accused of wrongfully putting his wife on the payroll in a “fake jobs” scandal, told a Paris court Thursday that the allegations had caused “irreparable damage”.

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The former French prime minister gave a “short but rather bitter statement” as he addressed the court, FRANCE 24's CatherineTrent-Norris reported from the court.

“He said that although, technically in France, there was a presumption of innocence, he had already been found guilty by the court [of] the media three years ago, without any chance of appeal," she said.

In his statement, 65-year-old Fillon said: “The goal was clear: To prevent me from running in normal conditions in the presidential election” and that the “damages are irreparable”.

A favourite to win the Élysée Palace in the 2017 election, Fillon’s campaign was plunged into crisis when satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné reported that his wife, Penelope, had been paid hundreds of thousands of euros for doing little work, including serving several years as his parliamentary assistant. The affair was dubbed Penelopegate.

The paper went on to report that Fillon had also employed two of his five children as parliamentary assistants while he was a senator, earning them a total of €84,000 between 2005 and 2007.

No archives

Fillon explained his lack of documentation proving the work done by his wife by saying that he kept no archives of his parliamentary work in his electoral district, in the rural Sarthe region in western France.

Welsh-born Penelope Fillon, who has always kept a low profile, told the court that her mission consisted mostly in handling her husband’s mail, helping him prepare events and speeches, and providing information on local issues. She said she never worked at the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, to where her husband was first elected in 1981.

Asked about her well-paid job, she said repeatedly that her husband was in charge of taking those types of decisions. She said she didn’t remember well the successive contracts she had as a parliamentary aid.

François Fillon insisted that, according to the principle of separation of powers, the justice system cannot interfere with a lawmaker’s choices and how he organises work at his office.

Fillon served as prime minister under former president Nicolas Sarkozy from 2007 to 2012.

The trial is scheduled to last until March 11. If convicted, Fillon and his wife face up to ten years in prison and a fine of €150,000 as well as reimbursing the funds paid out.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

 

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