Europe

Probe into alleged fake jobs for relatives threatens French conservative presidential candidate

Jan. 29, 2017: Conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon applauds while his wife Penelope looks on as they attend a campaign meeting in Paris.

Jan. 29, 2017: Conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon applauds while his wife Penelope looks on as they attend a campaign meeting in Paris.  (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

French presidential candidate Francois Fillon not only paid his wife for an allegedly fake job as a parliamentary aide, but also employed two of the couple's children for the same positions, a weekly newspaper is reporting. Altogether, the aide work brought Fillon's family nearly $1 million.

The Canard Enchaine newspaper reports in its Wednesday's issue that Fillon's wife earned more money over a longer period than reported previously. Penelope Fillon made 830,000 euros ($900,000) over 15 years, not the 500,000 euros ($540,000) over eight years the weekly had reported last week.

Their daughter, Marie, and son, Charles, also were hired by Fillon as his parliamentary aides when he was a French senator in 2005-2007, earning 84,000 euros ($91,000) in total, the paper said, adding their actual jobs were "very evanescent."

The Conservative hopeful, one of the top contenders in the upcoming French presidential election, said Tuesday night he was the victim of a "very professional slander campaign."

Fillon has said he paid two of his children, "who were lawyers," for "specific assignments" when he was a senator.

However, Marie and Charles still were in law school when they worked for their father, French news media reported. And according to Le Canard Enchaine, they drew paychecks not for "specific assignments," but two full-time jobs.

Fillon has also said he first officially employed his wife in 1997 and that she had worked for him without pay before then.

The weekly newspaper says Penelope Fillon first worked as her husband's paid parliamentary aide in 1988-1990, earning the equivalent of 83,000 euros ($90,000) over three years.

The Canard also says Fillon rehired her for 1 ½ years after he quit as prime minister and went back to a seat in Parliament in May 2012. Fillon has said she was on his payroll for six months during that period.

Last week, the newspaper reported Penelope also earned 100,000 euros ($108,000) as a literary consultant for a literary magazine, La Revue des Deux Mondes. The paper suggested that job also was a ruse, saying she wrote only two reviews in 2012-2013.

All figures cited by the Canard Enchaine were pre-tax salaries.

Fillon and his wife are under a preliminary probe by France's national financial prosecutors for suspicions of embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds after The Canard Enchaine first disclosed the so-called "Penelopegate" last week.

The couple was separately questioned by investigators for five hours on Monday. During an evening event Tuesday, he said he was "confident, unworried" and waiting "for the end of this investigation."

The Conservative candidate said that to his knowledge, it was the first time in recent French history that "a campaign of such magnitude and so professional has been launched to try to eliminate a candidate otherwise than through the democratic way."

Earlier in the day, his team said that Fillon wants the investigation to advance as quickly as possible over whether his wife actually worked while being paid as his parliamentary aide. Fillon's campaign director, Patrick Stefanini, told reporters that the candidate doesn't want the investigation to "interfere with the democratic process."