Macron laughs off rumours over 'gay affair'
The most unpredictable French presidential election in decades has taken another bizarre turn after Emmanuel Macron, the leading candidate who is married to his former high-school teacher, was forced to deny a gay extramarital affair.
The centrist took the lead in the opinion polls two weeks ago after his conservative rival, François Fillon, became embroiled in a scandal centring on alleged misuse of public funds to pay his wife for a job for which she allegedly did no work.
Mr Macron unexpectedly turned up on Monday at a local Paris meeting of activists from his 'En Marche' movement and laughed off the persistent rumours of a homosexual relationship with Radio France chief executive Mathieu Gallet.
"If you're told I lead a double life with Mr Gallet it's because my hologram has escaped," he said, in a reference to a rival candidate making an appearance as a hologram at a rally last weekend.
A spokesman for the former investment banker - whose wife and former French school teacher Brigitte Trogneux is 24 years his senior - said the comments were "a clear denial of the rumours about his private life".
The couple have regularly featured in France's celebrity and lifestyle magazines since the telegenic Mr Macron (39) resigned as economy minister from the Socialist government last summer to launch his bid for the presidency.
Mr Macron has previously dismissed claims he is gay, but his latest comments may have been sparked by a report on the Russian government-controlled news site Sputnik in which a French MP from Mr Fillon's Les Républicains party said he was backed by a "gay lobby".
Mr Fillon, who until the financial scandal broke two weeks ago was the leading presidential candidate, was yesterday seeking to get his campaign back on track after publicly denying the accusations and saying he was the victim of a smear campaign.
But his counter-offensive appears to have failed to win back public support, with the latest opinion poll confirming earlier surveys that showed around two-thirds of French people want him to stand aside and let another conservative candidate run.
Mr Fillon served as prime minister from 2007 until 2012 under then president Nicolas Sarkozy, who yesterday was ordered to stand trial over the allegedly fraudulent financing of his failed 2012 re-election campaign.
The charge against Mr Sarkozy exposes the 62-year-old conservative politician to a one-year prison sentence if convicted. One of two magistrates handling the case ordered the trial on the charge that he spent way more than he was entitled to, despite warnings from his accountants.
The source said it was still possible that an appeal could be lodged against the trial order because it was signed by only one of the two magistrates in charge of the case.