France’s Fillon to be charged in ‘fake jobs’ probe but vows to stay in presidential race
French presidential candidate Francois Fillon announced on Wednesday that judges had summoned him to press charges over an expenses scandal but vowed to continue his campaign.
The 62-year-old conservative former premier was favourite at the start of the year to win the French presidency after clinching the nomination for the Republicans party in November.
But he has since been hit by a series of allegations that he paid his wife Penelope and his children hundreds of thousands of euros over decades for allegedly fake parliamentary jobs.
Fillon said the charges were “entirely calculated to stop me being a candidate for the presidential election”.
“I won’t give in, I won’t surrender and I won’t withdraw,” he told a press conference on Wednesday.
French prosecutors launched a full judicial inquiry into the claims last week, increasing pressure on Fillon’s campaign which has been in crisis since allegations first surfaced in January.
Fillon has been defiant throughout, insisting publicly that the facts would exonerate him and reminding his party that they have few attractive alternatives to him.
He has accused the media of trying to “lynch” him and believes Socialist President Francois Hollande has encouraged the investigations to discredit him, which would be illegal.
Recent surveys suggest that far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron are the two most likely to progress from the first round of the election on April 23.
Macron is currently shown as the winner of a run-off vote scheduled for May 7.
Fillon campaigned as a sleaze-free reformer ready to administer a “radical” economic overhaul and cut public spending.
He postponed a visit to a key farm show on Wednesday morning and announced the press conference, sending the rumour mill into overdrive amid speculation he would withdraw.
Though employing a family member is not illegal in France, Fillon has not provided evidence publicly of Penelope’s work beyond her contracts which show various periods of employment.
“From the start, I have not been treated like anyone else facing the justice system,” Fillon said in his statement to reporters, claiming he was the victim of a “political assassination”.
“It’s not just me they are killing, but the French presidential election,” he said.
British-born Penelope, or Penny as she is known, and two of their five children were paid around €900,000 (US$950,000) from public funds from Fillon’s office budget, the Canard Enchaine newspaper has reported.