As recently as one week ago, French conservative politician Francois Fillon, who until recently was the favorite to win the upcoming presidential election until centrist Emmanuel Macron stormed ahead of him in popularity, said he would end his presidential campaign if an official probe was launched against him over a long-running graft scandal. Then, one week ago, he backtracked on the promise to quit the race if he is placed under formal investigation over his wife’s employment.
Last Friday Fillon said he would stay in the presidential race come what may, despite an ongoing investigation into whether his wife, Penelopé Fillon, did real work in exchange for receiving €830,000 of taxpayer money as his parliamentary assistant. “My decision is clear: I am a candidate and I will continue until victory,” he said in an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro
“The closer we get to the date of the election, the more scandalous it would be to deny the Right and the Centre of a candidate,” Mr Fillon added.
Or, alternatively, the more scandalous if a formal probe is opened just weeks before the election. Which, incidentally, is precisely what happened on Friday evening when according to the Le Parisien newspaper, France’s financial prosecutor has asked an investigative magistrate to open a probe into allegations that presidential candidate Francois Fillon’s wife was paid large sums of money for work she may not have done.
According to Reuters, the report from Le Parisien followed an earlier media report on the website of French TV station M6 that the prosecutor was likely to publish a statement on the matter later on Friday.
The prosecutor had said earlier this month it was continuing its probe into the affair, which has seen Fillon lose ground in opinion polls. Fillon, the candidate of The Republicans’ right-wing party, has denied any wrongdoing.
It is unclear if now that a formal probe is in play, he will quit, and if so how that would impact the other two frontrunners, Le Pen and Macron.