The rightwing French presidential candidate François Fillon has denied claims that his wife was paid about €500,000 (£430,000) over eight years from public funds for a parliamentary assistant’s job she never carried out.
He also said he would not stand down when he appeared on the evening news on TF1 to answer questions about a scandal that could prove explosive for his presidential bid.
Fillon said his British wife Penelope had worked for him since his first election in 1980 and that he had no intention of quitting the presidential race because he had not been formally charged with any crime.
France’s financial prosecutor this week opened a preliminary investigation into the possible misuse of public funds by Fillon and his wife. The Canard Enchaîné newspaper had claimed she was paid an extremely generous salary from parliamentary funds as Fillon’s parliamentary assistant, and then as assistant to his successor, but the paper claimed it could find no trace of her ever having carried out the work and no witnesses to her doing the job.
“My wife has always worked for me; she has always been by my side in my public life,” Fillon said.
“She corrected my speeches, she met a huge number of people who I couldn’t see, she represented me at events, she did press reviews for me and she passed on people’s requests.”
Fillon, a former prime minister, said his wife’s work for him was “real, legal and transparent” and he would “sue newspapers who say my wife had a fake job”. He also revealed that he had employed two of his children, who were lawyers, from public funds while he was a senator.
Hiring family members as assistants is legal for French MPs, as long as the person is genuinely employed. However, Penelope Fillon has always told the media she played no role in her husband’s political life and raised their children at their chateau in western France while her husband worked.
Fillon said the work of a parliamentary assistant was not a job that had precise norms, nor a job “that you necessarily do in an office”.