French conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon and his wife were questioned for five hours by police investigators on Monday as part of a probe into allegations that Penelope Fillon had been paid for fake jobs.
The allegations, which Fillon rejects, are sapping the popularity of the former prime minister and could shake up the April-to-May presidential contest, for which he has so far been the clear favorite.
Fillon said in a statement that he and his wife had provided investigators with information that would help “establish the truth on the work carried out by Mrs Fillon.”
Such questioning is a normal step in a preliminary probe and not an indication of guilt.
The French financial prosecutors’ office last week opened an investigation after the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine reported that Penelope Fillon had been paid 500,000 euros (US$534,975) from state funds as a parliamentary assistant to her husband and his successor, but that it could find no evidence that she had actually done any work.
Fillon has said his wife’s work was real and that he is the victim of a smear campaign.
However, he is in an increasingly tight race against French presidential candidates Emmanuel Macron, a centrist, and far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, according to surveys carried out since Le Canard Enchainepublished its story.
The affair has dented the wholesome image that Francois Fillon, a devout Catholic has cultivated.
Analysts have said it could also make it harder for Fillon to stick to a platform of spending cuts and firing of civil servants.
“This is harming him both in his bid to get to the Elysee [presidential palace] and also for his calls for the French to agree to tighten their belts for the sake of the recovery of the French economy,” said Francois Miquet-Marty of the pollster Viavoice.
A privately organized Internet petition asking Penelope Fillon to “give us back the 500,000 euros” had by Monday evening collected 248,000 signatories.
Fillon’s lawyer Antonin Levy said investigators would be sent more evidence in the coming days to prove that Penelope Fillon’s work was real and “very important.”
Asked about what work Penelope Fillon, who had up until now said she was staying out of politics, had been doing, Levy told BFM TV: “Working as a parliamentary assistant is not about writing up notes ... and summaries, it is also sometimes less tangible, less concrete but as real.”
The probe is at this stage only a preliminary investigation, the first step in the judicial process. If police find that the allegations stand up, prosecutors can seek a formal inquiry by a magistrate.
Japan said it opposed changes to the G7 nations as it pushed back against a reform plan by US President Donald Trump that would have rival South Korea this year join in an expanded meeting. Tokyo has told the US it stands against South Korea’s participation on the grounds of differences in policy on China and North Korea, Kyodo News reported this weekend, citing more than one source related to Japanese and US diplomacy. Japan also wants to maintain its status as the only Asian country in the group, the news agency added. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga yesterday told reporters that
The onset of summer has sparked a rise in incidents of “mask rage” in South Korea as more hot and bothered commuters either refuse to wear face coverings or leave parts of their faces exposed. In South Korea, Japan and other countries in East Asia, widespread mask wearing has been cited as one possible explanation for the region’s relative success in bringing the COVID-19 pandemic under control. South Korea, one of the first countries outside China to be affected by the virus, flattened the coronavirus curve in April, although it is now struggling with dozens of daily cases, mainly in and around
‘WOULD NOT COMPLY’: The company’s user data are kept in Singapore and it would not turn the data over to Beijing even if asked, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said Social media app TikTok has distanced itself from Beijing after India banned 59 Chinese apps in the country, according to a correspondence seen by Reuters. In a letter to the Indian government dated on Sunday last week and seen by Reuters on Friday, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said the Chinese government has never requested user data, nor would the company turn it over if asked. TikTok, which is not available in China, is owned by China’s ByteDance, but has sought to distance itself from its Chinese roots to appeal to a global audience. Along with 58 other Chinese apps, including Tencent
PLAYING THE VICTIM? A Chinese spokesman sent a statement to Australian media saying that Beijing had ‘irrefutable’ evidence of Canberra’s widescale espionage Australia yesterday unveiled the “largest-ever” boost in cybersecurity spending, days after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke out about a wave of state-sponsored attacks suspected to have been carried out by China. Morrison and government officials said the country would spend an additional A$1.35 billion (US$928 million) on cybersecurity, about a 10 percent hike, taking the budget for the next decade to A$15 billion. The largest chunk of the new money would help create 500 jobs within the Australian Signals Directorate, the government’s communications intelligence agency. Morrison on June 19 said that a “state-based actor” was targeting a host of