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"I am innocent and I will continue" - Francois Fillon fights back


France

"I am innocent and I will continue" - Francois Fillon fights back



Francois Fillon has launched a counter-attack against the bogus jobs scandal that is threatening his campaign.

The 62-year-old gave a spirited defence of his actions in a press conference from his campaign headquarters in Paris.

He admitted his Welsh-born wife, Penelope, was paid 830,000 euros over 15 years as his assistant and that he had awarded consultancy work to two of his children.

However, he said this was entirely legal, above board and transparent.

Speaking at the weekend, the French conservative presidential candidate said he would fight to the end to defend his position as his party’s nominee.

A champion of the application of free-market policies to reinvigorate France’s heavily-regulated economy, Fillon has seen his campaign unravel over the last two weeks.

If he were forced to quit as the centre-right nominee, it would be unprecedented in six decades of French politics.




What Fillon said



Francois Fillon:


  • Denied he acted illegally
  • Won’t withdraw from the race
  • Will publish his assets on the internet
  • Apologised to the French people
  • says he is honest and the accusations hit him like a “clap of thunder”
  • says the money will not be paid back as it was “legally earned”


The background



Fillon has come under pressure to quit the race since allegations were published on January 25 claiming his wife Penelope was paid hundreds of thousands of euros in public money for work she may never have done.




Fillon’s reversal of fortune



It has been a humiliating reversal of fortune for Fillon.

The devout Catholic and father-of-five had campaigned on the basis that he is a rare, honest politician.

The accusations also sit uneasily with his economic plans for setting France back on its feet.

These include slashing public spending and sacking half a million public servants.

Since the scandal broke, he and his Welsh-born wife have been interviewed by the fraud office, his parliamentary office has been searched and the inquiry has been extended to two of his adult children who, it is suggested, were also paid for stints of work at the Senate.

A report on Monday (link in French) in the French newspaper Le Monde said Fillon told investigators that his daughter had helped him research a book he wrote and that his son had been paid while helping with the 2007 campaign of former president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

The newspaper said prosecutors are investigating whether there was a link between a Legion of Honour medal awarded to a wealthy businessman friend of Fillon’s and a sum of money that businessman paid to his wife, Penelope.

Le Monde quoted Fillon’s lawyer as saying there was no link between the medal award and payments the magnate made to Penelope Fillon between 2012 and 2013.



What the polls say



Opinion polls suggest the 62-year-old former prime minister has lost his status as favourite to win the presidency.

Seen as the comfortable favourite two weeks ago, recent polls show Fillon failing to reach the runoff on May 7.

Independent centrist Emmanuel Macron is current favourite.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen has also gained ground.

Polls suggest Fillon will come third in the April 23 first round, with first and second placed Le Pen and Macron going through to the run-off vote.

Research suggests Macron will win this.

READ the majority of French citizens think Fillon should withdraw from the presidential campaign.



What Fillon’s party says



With his campaign in turmoil, some senior members of Fillon’s own party, Les Republicains, have told him to stand aside for someone else.

They argue this will give them time to build a campaign for the vote, now just 11 weeks away.

Alain Juppe is another former prime minister who has been touted as a potential replacement for Fillon. He has ruled out a comeback.


“No is no,” Juppe said in a tweet. “I’ll say why. Today, let’s listen to FF (Francois Fillon), our candidate.”



What Francois Fillon says



Fillon said at the weekend he would fight to the end to defend his position as the party’s nominee.

On Saturday, his supporters distributed three million leaflets entitled “Stop the Manhunt”. They painted the scandal as a left-wing conspiracy and declared “enough is enough.”



The stakes are high for the French Right



Analysts say the stakes are high for France’s Right.

They had looked likely to return to power after five years of Socialist rule under President Francois Hollande.

Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker, was economy minister in Hollande’s government from 2014 until last year.

However, the 39-year-old has no established party apparatus, has never been elected and held no government office before that.

Le Pen’s anti-immigrant, anti-EU National Front presents an even more uncertain prospect for western governments and investors worried about a further destabilisation of the world order after the Brexit vote in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in the US.



In tweets











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