Paris: Francois Fillon has defiantly refused to drop out of the race to be France’s next president despite an investigation into whether well-paid political jobs he gave his wife, son and daughter were genuine, a scandal that has knocked him from his perch as favorite in the April-May voting.
The conservative politician who served as prime minister from 2007 to 2012, the chief workhorse under then-President Nicolas Sarkozy, has long had a reputation as low-key, reliable and standing for moral rectitude, making the corruption scandal particularly shocking to his party, supporters and the French as a whole.
Yesterday, two weeks after revelations first surfaced, he scrambled to save his candidacy.
“I have nothing to hide,” Fillon told a news conference aimed at stanching the blood-letting and conspiring within his party about who might replace him as candidate. “All acts described (in the media) are legal and transparent.”
Determined despite unending attacks, Fillon, stressing his 32 years in politics, vowed to stay in the race. “Nothing will turn me from my duty to be candidate in the presidential election,” he said.
Fillon apologised for employing his wife, while noting that it is not illegal and he is not the only politician to have done so.
“What was acceptable yesterday … is not today,” Fillon said. “It was a mistake. I deeply regret it and I present my excuses to the French.”
French politicians are allowed to hire family members as aides as long as they actually do the jobs for which they are paid.
Prosecutors are trying to determine whether Fillon’s family members did the jobs of parliamentary aides. The preliminary probe involves suspicions of embezzlement and
misappropriation of public funds.
As prime minister and in his presidential campaign, Fillon put the accent on cutting back on government spending.
A key campaign promise this year is to slash half a million public-sector jobs.
Fillon’s popularity has dropped in the past two weeks following allegations by the Canard Enchaine newspaper that his Welsh-born wife Penelope was paid 830,000 euros ($900,000) over 15 years without doing anything to earn the salary. The Paris prosecutor’s office on Thursday expanded its investigation to include Fillon’s son and daughter. Some conservative lawmakers have pressed for him to step down to improve the party’s chances of winning the election.
The first vote is on April 23, and the top two finishers compete in a runoff on May 7. If Fillon’s bid to win confidence while wading through a legal investigation fails to
work, the election could become an unusual face-off without a strong right, or no right at all.