The investigation into French presidential candidate Francois Fillon has stepped up a gear.
Prosecutors have appointed a magistrate to investigate allegations concerning Fillon and his wife Penelope, over charges that she and two of his children got large sums of money for work she may not have done.
A blow for Fillon
The prosecutor’s decision to open up a new stage in the case marks a blow for Fillon.
His status as favourite to win the presidency has faded since a newspaper broke what has become known as “Penelopegate” after his British wife.
More resources put in
By involving a magistrate in what has so far been a preliminary probe by police, the prosecutor is putting more resources into the investigation.
The magistrate has more powers to investigate, including tapping phones or placing suspects under house arrest.
The judge can still decide to drop the case, place the suspect under formal investigation or send it to trial.
It is not clear if the inquiry can be concluded before France’s presidential election, scheduled for April 23 and May 7.
Fillon has denied any wrongdoing.
Under French law, the investigation would be suspended for the five-year presidential term, should Fillon be elected.
In a statement, the prosecutor said he is examining possible misuse of public funds and a lack of full and proper disclosure.
It was issued as Fillon took to the stage at a campaign rally in Paris.
Fillon has pledged to stay in the race “come what may”, after saying for weeks he would step down if he were put under formal investigation.