Thursday 24 May 2018

Fillon vows to fight on as allies desert him after summons

François Fillon at yesterday’s press conference in Paris. Photo: Christian Hartmann/Reuters
François Fillon at yesterday’s press conference in Paris. Photo: Christian Hartmann/Reuters

Henry Samuel

The conservative candidate François Fillon faced further calls to quit yesterday after vowing to pursue his campaign for the French presidency, despite a deepening investigation into whether he paid his wife €900,000 for a fictitious job.

Both Mr Fillon and his British wife Penelope face a summons later this month that could lead to them being charged.

Mr Fillon labelled the case an attempted "political assassination" that had been "biased from the start".

But centrist Union des Democrates et Independants allies said they were "suspending" support pending a decision on whether to pull out next week.

Catherine Vautrin, vice-president of his Les Republicains party in parliament, urged Mr Fillon to stand down in favour or "another candidate".

Pierre Lellouche, right-wing MP in Paris, meanwhile, said Mr Fillon had "reached a point of no return", and called for the election to be put off until a replacement could be found.

Last Friday, three judges took over an investigation centred on whether Mrs Fillon was paid for an allegedly fictitious role as assistant to her husband and his successor in parliament. She had previously told a reporter: "I have never been his assistant."

Speaking from the Paris headquarters of his centre-right party yesterday, Mr Fillon confirmed he had been summoned on March 15 in view of being placed under formal investigation - one step short of being charged.

Judicial sources said that Welsh-born Mrs Fillon has also been summoned. 'Le Monde' said she would be questioned on March 18.

Despite previously pledging to stand down if charged, Mr Fillon said: "I won't surrender. I won't give in. I won't withdraw, I will go all the way. Yes I will be presidential candidate."

Denying he had misused and misappropriated public funds or peddled influence, Mr Fillon claimed that the investigation had been "biased against me from the start", and that it was unprecedented for judges to summon someone for charges so soon after receiving the dossier of the case.

Until last week, a financial prosecutor was handling the Fillon inquiry. The magistrates now handling the case have more powers to investigate, including tapping phones or placing suspects under house arrest.

Mr Fillon made it clear he would plough on with his campaign. "Only universal suffrage and not a biased probe against me can decide who will be the next French president," he said.

His attack on judicial impartiality prompted President François Hollande to respond: "Being a presidential candidate doesn't authorise you to cast suspicion on the work of police and judges... or to make extremely grave accusations against the justice system."

The affair has seen Mr Fillon lose ground in opinion polls, with the latest suggesting he stands to be eliminated by Front National candidate Marine Le Pen and independent rival Emmanuel Macron in the first round of the election on April 23.

Mr Macron is polling to win in the run-off on May 7. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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