French presidential contender François Fillon has said he’s assisting the prosecutor’s office with its investigation into his wife’s work record.
A preliminary inquiry was launched after satirical weekly paper Le Canard Enchainé alleged Penelope Fillon had been paid around 500,000 euros for a fake job as her husband’s parliamentary assistant.
The investigation is looking into suspicions of “embezzlement of public funds, misuse of company assets and concealment of these offences.”
The newspaper said it had seen wage slips for Fillon’s Wales-born wife, but had been unable to find any evidence of the work she was paid for. The pay slips reportedly cover three periods between 1998 and 2012.
Fillon labelled the claims misogynistic and says she has the right to work.
“I won’t make any comment because there is nothing to comment on,” he told reporters at a campaign event in Bordeaux.
“But I’m outraged by the contempt and the misogyny in this story. Just because she is my wife she should not be entitled to work?”
Fillon – the right-wing Republican party’s candidate and a former prime minister – has been strongly tipped to win the two-round presidential elections.
But this could harm his chances in a country feeling ever-more hostile towards establishment politicians.
The issue has divided French MPs, including the left-wing Socialists.
“It’s a pity that it should bring discredit upon all the people who work here, MPs and their collaborators, especially when they work hard and they don’t count their hours each week,” said MP Regis Juanico.
However, fellow Socialist MP René Dosière said family members should have as much right as anyone to work for each other.
“When a family member is employed, why should it necessarily be a fictitious job? People may want to work with their spouse, their children may have the right qualifications…”
The man expected to win this weekend’s (January 29) Socialist Party primary vote disagreed.
“MPs should no longer be allowed to hire their children, cousins, relatives or wives,” said Benoît Hamon.
The French people have also had their say, with many taking to Twitter to criticise the Fillons under the hashtags #PenelopeGate and #FillonGate.
One critic remarked on a spokesperson’s comment that Penelope Fillon was a very discreet worker, posting a picture of a dilapidated escalator, with the comment:
“According to Fillon supporters, this escalator works, but ‘it has always been discreet’.”
Another posted an image of the Fillons, with the comment:
“Rare image of François Fillon and his wife-skin purse.”