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Sunday 17 December 2017

Fillon's wife admitted 'I wasn't his aide', despite €800,000 pay

François Fillon and his wife Penelope at a political rally in Paris, France, earlier this week. Photo: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters
François Fillon and his wife Penelope at a political rally in Paris, France, earlier this week. Photo: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

Henry Samuel in Paris

François Fillon's British wife told the 'Daily Telegraph' in 2007 that she had "never been his assistant", as the French presidential candidate faces calls to quit over allegations she was paid more than €800,000 for a "fictitious job" as his parliamentary aide.

The explosive extracts from the interview with Penelope Fillon in May 2007 - conducted the week before her husband moved into the hotel Matignon to become prime minister for then president Nicolas Sarkozy and revealed yesterday - will fuel allegations she had little to do with his political life.

In the conversation, which centred on her life as the wife of the new French prime minister, Welsh-born Mrs Fillon was asked about her role.

"I have never been actually his assistant or anything like that. I don't deal with his communication," she said.

Asked whether they discussed politics, she said: "When we're just on our own, not really."

However, she added that she helped him more informally: "I always went with him on the election campaign whenever he needed help doling out leaflets and things like that. I like being myself at the back of the room and listening to things said about him."

Mentioning the town of Sablé-sur-Sarthe where the couple have a 12th-century manor, she said: "I used to do bits and pieces in Sablé" - without specifying what type of work that might entail.

"I do say what I think but I don't think he listens," she said.

"I get more passionate about things done in the country, the local side of it. Sometimes I say something and I think it does go on board."

There have been growing calls for Mr Fillon - who was leading in the French presidential polls until the scandal erupted last week - to stand down. On Monday, Mrs Fillon and her husband were questioned separately as part of a preliminary inquiry into whether she was paid more than €500,000 for a job as his parliamentary assistant, and as aide to his replacement, while in fact steering clear of his political activities.

She also faces allegations that she was unfairly paid €100,000 by a magazine called 'La Revue des Deux Mondes', owned by a close friend of Mr Fillon's, for writing a handful of short articles.

'Le Canard Enchaîné', the investigative weekly that broke the story, then said the amount of taxpayers' money spent on Mrs Fillon and two of her children for allegedly fake jobs was higher than previously thought. It said Mrs Fillon received €831,000 from 1988 to 1990, from 1998 to 2007 and in 2013 as parliamentary assistant to her husband, and then his replacement Marc Joulaud - MEP and mayor of Sablé-sur-Sarthe.

'Le Canard' also alleged that the two Fillon children, Marie and Charles, were also paid €84,000 as assistants while he was senator in 2005 and 2007.

In a fresh blow to Mr Fillon, prosecutors yesterday extended the inquiry to include payments to the two children.

Last week, the conservative candidate had revealed he had paid the children for "specific" consulting work as they were lawyers, but records show they had not passed their exams at the time.

Mr Fillon, who denies wrongdoing, has accused the left of seeking to torpedo his campaign and asked his own camp to wait two weeks to see whether he is cleared.

Mrs Fillon's lawyer, Antonin Lévy, said she had provided ample evidence she had fulfilled a proper post, saying: "All the details demonstrating the existence of proper work" had been handed over to investigators.

But opinion polls show support for Mr Fillon has lost ground to far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, an ex-investment banker and economy minister who is running as an independent.

Another survey published early yesterday showed that 69pc of people wanted Mr Fillon to drop his bid.

The surprise victor in November of primaries for his Les Républicains party, Mr Fillon has pledged to stand down if placed under formal investigation. But Claude Maes, a right-winger from Mr Fillon's Les Républicains party who supported former prime minister Alain Juppé in primaries, said Mr Fillon must "withdraw as quickly as possible".

Writing in 'Le Monde', Mr Maes said: "François Fillon must rapidly withdraw from the presidential race as he is no longer able to carry a credible message on reforms; the party can no longer avoid deep reflection on the functioning of political life in France."

Telegraph.co.uk

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