Centre-right candidate Francois Fillon has refused to pull out of the French presidential election race after confirming he will be charged over claims he paid his wife hundreds of thousands of euros while pretending she was his parliamentary assistant.
Previously regarded as the candidate best placed to face down the Front National’s Marine Le Pen in the final round of the presidential elections in May, the former Prime Minster had been widely tipped to step down as pressure grew over claims he paid his wife and children large sums of public money for fictitious government jobs.
Informing reporters yesterday morning that his lawyers had received a summons over the allegations, Fillon described the claims made against him as a “political assassination”.
Confirming he will be officially charged with a range of corruption offences on 15 March alongside his wife, Fillon urged his supporters to “resist”, saying he would leave it up to the French electorate to judge him.
“I will not surrender. I will not withdraw,” he told reporters at his campaign headquarters.
President Francois Hollande was critical of Fillon’s reaction to news he will face charges, accusing him of denigrating the French judiciary and police.
“Being a presidential candidate doesn’t authorise you to cast suspicion on the work of police and judges…, or to make extremely serious accusations against the justice system and our institutions more broadly,” Hollande said.
Fillon last month called a press conference to apologise for employing his wife and other members of his family. Despite saying sorry to the French people for what he described as an error of judgement he profoundly regretted, Fillon insisted he had done nothing wrong, claiming he had hired family members because he trusted them.
Arguing that the money paid to his wife was justified, he framed the allegations made against him as a left-wing plot to destabilise his bid for the presidency.
Fillon’s decision to stay in the presidential race has seen him backtrack on a pledge he made previously to pull out of the process in the event he was formally charged.
Hours after issuing his defiant statement on Wednesday, a close ally of Fillon’s stepped down from his campaign team. Bruno Le Maire said he could no longer support the candidate on account of his failure to stand down after receiving word he would be charged.
As well allegedly handing his wife a six-figure sum in exchange for her work as a parliamentary assistant, Fillon is also said to have paid the couple’s two eldest children from public funds while they were students.
The fake jobs corruption scandal has been especially shocking for the French electorate due to Fillon’s clean-cut image and his promise to cut government spending.