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Fallen former PM François Fillon appeals fraud conviction in Paris

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By Josephine Joly  with AFP
Former France's Prime Minister Francois Fillon arrives at the Paris' courthouse on November 15, 2021.
Former France's Prime Minister Francois Fillon arrives at the Paris' courthouse on November 15, 2021.   -   Copyright  THOMAS COEX / AFP

Former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon returned to court on Monday to try to clear his name in a corruption scandal that caused his downfall during the presidential elections of 2017.

After five years under François Hollande's presidency, the conservative former PM who served from 2007 to 2012 was the favourite to win back the Élysée Palace for the right in 2017.

But three months before the vote, Fillon's campaign was torpedoed by revelations that his wife Penelope occupied a fictitious job as parliamentary assistant to her husband and his deputy, for which she received €613,000 over a period of 15 years.

Fillon — who had campaigned as a model of integrity — denied any wrongdoing and refused to quit the race, but crashed out of the election in the first round after being charged with embezzling public funds.

The scandal, known as the "Penelopegate," made national headlines for weeks, and it was labelled as one of France's biggest political scandals in decades.

The former Prime Minister was also accused of having paid two of their five children for bogus jobs and was suspected of taking part in many dubious cases regarding large sums of public money to the tune of a generous €1.2 million.

In June 2020, a court ruled that Penelope's job was either "fictitious or greatly overstated" and gave François Fillon, now 67, a two-year jail term for fraud, barring him from holding elected office for 10 years.

His wife received a suspended sentence, and the couple, as well as Fillon's former deputy, Marc Joulaud, were ordered to repay the lower house of Parliament, the National Assembly, more than €1m.

His latest court appearance comes right after his former boss, ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, was given two prison sentences in two separate trials — one for corruption and the other for illegal campaign financing.

Sarkozy, who was France's first postwar president to be sentenced to jail, has appealed against both rulings.

"I certainly made mistakes"

Fillon has admitted to having "certainly made mistakes," but still denies trying to cheat taxpayers by using funds to enrich his family.

He insists that Penelope did actual work for her salary, including organising his mail and proofreading his speeches.

Last week, it also emerged that François Fillon was again under investigation for using public funds to pay his speechwriter to help him write a book.

His lawyer, Antonin Levy, has accused anti-fraud prosecutors of hounding his client.

Fillon's appeal, which in practice means a full retrial, comes as the country begins preparing for new elections in April 2022.

Now out of the political sphere, the former PM has set up a business consultancy. He is also on the board of Russian state-controlled oil company Zarubezhneft.

Watch the full interview with Euronews reporter Heloise Urvoy in the video player above.