Francois Fillon's wife faces probe over payments for 'fictional' position
French presidential hopeful Francois Fillon's campaign has hit its first major hurdle as financial prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation following claims his wife was paid about 500,000 euro (£427,000) with parliamentary funds while holding a fictional position.
France's financial prosecutor launched its probe on suspected grounds of embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds just hours after Le Canard Enchaine newspaper reported that Penelope Fillon earned the money as a parliamentary aide to her husband during his tenure as a politician.
According to the weekly gazette, which said it had access to Mrs Fillon's pay slips, the candidate's wife was paid by her husband from 1998 to 2002 when he was a politician serving his native Sarthe region.
When Mr Fillon was handed a ministerial position in 2002 under Jacque Chirac's presidency, Mrs Fillon became an assistant to Marc Joulaud, who replaced her husband at the French parliament.
Le Canard Enchaine said her wages went up during that period, earning between 6,900 and 7,900 euro a month before tax.
The newspaper claims that she was re-employed by her husband for at least six months in 2012 after Mr Fillon was elected Paris legislator.
It is not illegal for French legislators to hire their relatives as long as they are genuinely employed.
Mr Fillon, who has been championing transparency in his campaign, denied any wrongdoing.
The former prime minister has been designated as the conservative presidential nominee.
Early opinion polls suggest that he and far-right leader Marine Le Pen could advance to the second round of the election later this year.
During a trip to the south-western city of Bordeaux, the conservative candidate hit back at the report, condemning the newspaper for what he perceives as a misogynistic approach.
"I can see they are opening fire with stink balls," Mr Fillon said.
"I won't make any comment because there is nothing to comment on.
"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?
"Could you imagine a politician saying, as this story did, that the only thing a woman can do is making jam?
"All the feminists would scream."
Mr Fillon's spokesman Philippe Vigier earlier insisted that Mrs Fillon's work was not fictional.
Benoit Hamon, who is likely to win the Socialists' primary and face Mr Fillon in the presidential race, proposed that close relatives of politicians should not be hired and paid in parliamentary funds in the future.
"Lawmakers should not be allowed to hire their children, cousins, relatives or wives anymore," Mr Hamon said in an interview with French public TV.