The French politico-satyrical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné published in its last issue new embarrassing revelations showing that the British-born wife of François Fillon, the rightwing French presidential candidate, Penelope Fillon, who was highly paid from taxpayers’ money for 15 years as a parliamentary assistant without doing any work, had also received a total of €45,000 in severance payments at the end of two apparently fake contracts.
Following the new claims, Fillon appealed to voters on Wednesday via a newspaper column to back his campaign, after losing his place as frontrunner over accusations of fake jobs for members of his family.
French prosecutors are carrying out a preliminary investigation into the possible “misuse of public funds” to determine whether or not Penelope Fillon had in fact done any work for her husband. That investigation has been extended to two of Fillon’s children whom he also paid as assistants when he was a senator.
The scandal has forced Fillon to apologise and his popularity ratings have plunged. Opinion polls show independent centrist Emmanuel Macron as the likely winner of the April-May election, beating far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen in the second round by a two-thirds majority.
“I have decided not to give in to intimidation and pressure. I have chosen to stand in front of the French, to face their judgment,” Fillon said in the Ouest-France regional daily, France’s best-selling paper and widely read in his western France stronghold.
Seeking to regain the offensive and show he had the backing of his party’s stalwarts, Fillon on Tuesday visited the Champagne region, flanked by local member of parliament Francois Baroin, whose name had been mooted as a possible ‘plan B’ candidate.
But Fillon was met at a sports equipment plant by hecklers shouting “Crook! Thief!”, Les Echos newspaper said.
Fillon’s show of unity with Baroin did not halt the media scrutiny that has Le Canard Enchaîné the 62-year-old former prime minister for the past two weeks, after satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné reported that Fillon’s wife Penelope had received public money for work she may not have done. It later said two of Fillon’s adult children had also received taxpayer money.
Fillon has said his wife did do work for him.
On Wednesday, BFM Business, a TV channel, said in an article on its website that Fillon had been paid 200,000 euros in fees by insurance company AXA between mid-2012 and mid-2014 via his consultancy business 2F Conseil.
French media speculated at the end of last year that former AXA chief Henri de Castries could become finance minister.