François Fillon slips in polls, as Putin ties are revealed

EPA/IAN LANGSDON

François Fillon slips in polls, as Putin ties are revealed


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French conservative presidential candidate François Fillon‘s legal problems deepened on Tuesday, with financial prosecutors expanding a probe into payments to his family to suspected “aggravated fraud, forgery and use of forgeries”.

The news came as Socialist Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux resigned after revelations that he had hired his two teenage daughters as parliamentary aides, prompting comparisons to Fillon’s scandal.

Fillon dropped half a percentage point, to 17 %, in an Elabe survey of first-round voting intentions published in Wednesday’s edition of L’Express while independent front-runner Emmanuel Macron rose a half-point, to 26 %. Fillon, who was the favorite to be France’s next head of state less than three months ago, has seen his campaign battered by almost weekly revelations in Le Canard enchaîné about his finances.

On Tuesday, the newspaper reported that the 63-year-old former prime minister earned 50,000 euros for setting up a meeting between a Lebanese billionaire, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Total SA Chief Executive Officer Patrick Pouyanne in 2015. Le Monde newspaper reported separately that prosecutors have asked judges to widen a criminal probe stemming from an earlier report in Le Canard to include charges of fraud, forgery and falsification of records.

Once the frontrunner, the 63-year-old conservative former prime minister has fallen to third place in polls and risks being eliminated in the first round of the presidential election a month from now in favor of a runoff between far-right leader Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Marcon, an independent centrist.

A source close to the Fillon investigation said the inquiry had been widened to include suspicion that false documents had been presented to justify the employment of Fillon family members.

Additionally, Le Canard enchaîné, the newspaper which broke initial allegations that Fillon may have paid his family large sums of public money for minimal work, reported in its latest edition that a Lebanese billionaire paid a company owned by Fillon $50,000 in 2015 to arrange introductions to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Total CEO Patrick Pouyanne.

The latest allegations follow claims by the Mediapart journal that Fillon’s consulting firm 2F Conseil signed a contract with Future Pipe Industries in 2015, a company owned by the Lebanese businessman.

The favorite in opinion polls to win power on May 7 is now Macron, who is ardently pro-European and seeks to transcend traditional left-versus-right political cleavages. He is tipped to convincingly beat Le Pen, leader of the anti-EU, anti-immigrant National Front party.

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