Thu, Mar 30, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Fillon’s wife charged over fictitious job

‘POLITICAL ASSASSINATION’:The presidential candidate has taken a beating from numerous scandals, including allegedly introducing Putin to a Lebanese businessman

AFP, PARIS

The wife of French conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon was on Tuesday charged with complicity in the abuse of public funds in a scandal that has engulfed her husband’s campaign.

He has already been charged in the case involving allegedly fictitious jobs as a parliamentary aide, for which Welsh-born Penelope Fillon was paid hundreds of thousands of euros.

Penelope Fillon, 61, was also charged over a salary she received from a literary magazine owned by a billionaire friend of her husband’s, Marc Ladreit de Lacharriere.

She has told police she never stepped foot in the offices of the Revue des Deux Mondes, a report in weekly Le Journal du Dimanche said.

The new blow comes less than four weeks before French voters go to the polls in a two-stage election on April 23 and May 7.

Francois Fillon, whose legal woes have snowballed since “Penelopegate” broke in January, once described his wife as a stalwart companion who “has been with me in political life for 30 years ... but always in the shadows.”

Revelations by satirical and investigative newspaper Le Canard Enchaine turned a harsh media glare on a woman that no one could recall seeing at work in the halls of parliament.

Although a lawmaker employing a family member is not illegal in France, Penelope Fillon is accused of doing little for the 680,000 euros (US$733,686 at the current exchange rate) she received in salary over a number of years.

Francois Fillon, 63, has repeatedly claimed that he is the victim of a “political assassination.”

Last week he accused French President Francois Hollande of using the French Ministry for the Economy and Finance to collect information on politicians, including former French prime minister Manuel Valls, which was then leaked to the media.

Francois Fillon, who overcame intense pressure to quit the presidential race early this month, was once the clear favorite, but opinion polls now show him failing to get past the first round.

If the election were held today, the May 7 runoff would pit far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen against Socialist Party candidate Emmanuel Macron, polls showed.

Macron, 39, is currently tipped to defeat Le Pen, 48, by a wide margin.

Last week, “Penelopegate” took a new twist when financial prosecutors said they were expanding the fake jobs probe to include suspicions of forgery.

Investigators are looking at whether the Fillons forged documents to try to justify Penelope Fillon’s salary, an allegation angrily rejected by her lawyer, Pierre Cornut-Gentille.

“When this case is approached calmly and with respect for the principles of law, I am convinced the innocence of Penelope and Francois Fillon will be recognized,” Cornut-Gentille said in a statement released by the office of the presidential candidate.

Charges were filed against Penelope Fillon with “unusual speed,” Cornut-Gentille said.

The silver-haired mother of five is now a local councilor in Solesmes, a village of 1,000 people in the Sarthe area, where the couple live in a turreted manor house.

Francois Fillon, a staunch Catholic who campaigned as a man of integrity, has also been charged for failing to declare a 2013 interest-free loan of 50,000 euros from Ladreit to a state transparency watchdog.

However, a potentially even more embarrassing revelation emerged this month, when Le Canard Enchaine reported that Francois Fillon had introduced a Lebanese oil pipeline builder — with whom he signed a US$50,000 lobbying contract — to Russian President Vladimir Putin at a business forum in St Petersburg, Russia, in 2015.

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