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François Fillon on Tuesday declared that he was a victim of a ‘professional’ plot aimed at derailing his bid to become France’s next president as the Republican nominee faced fresh claims that his wife and two of his children received large amounts in taxpayers money for fictitious jobs.
“To my knowledge, in the history of the Fifth Republic, this situation has never occurred” he during a conference organised by the Electronic Business Group in Paris. “Never with less than three months to go before a presidential election has an operation of such magnitude and this professional been staged with the aim of getting rid of a candidate.”
Mr Fillon’s comments come as Le Canard Enchaîné, a well respected French publication that mixes satire with investigative reporting, reported in its Wednesday edition that his wife Penelope Fillon had been paid more than €800,000 in public funds from 1988 and 2002 for an alleged fake job as his parliamentary aide and assistant to the man who replaced him in parliament.
This is more than the €500,000 initially reported by the newspaper last week, because it includes the years from 1998 to 1998, according to Le Canard. The weekly also claims that Ms Fillon earned €100,000 as literary adviser from a private magazine owned by billionaire Marc Ladreit de Lacharriere, a supporter of Mr Fillon, but that she did little work.
The affair extended to two of Mr Fillon’s five children, after Le Canard also alleged they received a combined €84,000 for jobs when Mr Fillon was a senator. Mr Fillon last week said he had employed this children because they were lawyers. But it later emerged that they had not yet graduated by then. Mr Fillon has denied wrongdoing.
The former French prime minister said at the EBG conference on Tuesday night that he was confident in the country’s justice system.
“I spoke to the police yesterday. I was very anxious for my side of the story to be heard quickly. They did and I welcome that. I am confident, I am serene. I now wait for the end of this investigation.”
Separately on Sunday, Mediapart, an investigative website reported other claims regarding a system of alleged commissions when he was a senator. Mr Fillon’s campaign declined to comment on the claims.
The series of allegations are hurting the candidate’s presidential campaign. The 62 year old centre-right politician, who won his party’s nomination last year by embodying high moral values in French politics, has suffered a decrease in approval ratings, by 4 percentage points to 38 per cent. French state prosecutors have also opened a preliminary investigation into possible embezzlement and misuse of public funds.
Investigators questioned him and his wife on Monday and raided the National Assembly on Tuesday in search for evidence of Ms Fillon’s work.
Mr Fillon has said he would withdraw from the presidential race if he were put under formal investigation, which is short of being charged.