- Title: France's Fillon faces turmoil over his wife's parliamentary job
- Date: 25th January 2017
- Summary: PARIS, FRANCE (DECEMBER 7, 2012) (REUTERS) THEN MEMBER OF FRENCH PARLIAMENT FILLON AT WORK
- Embargoed: 8th February 2017 10:45
- Keywords: Francois Fillon Penelope presidential election parliamentary assistant
- Location: PARIS, FRANCE
- City: PARIS, FRANCE
- Country: France
- Topics: Government/Politics,Elections/Voting
- Reuters ID: LVA00660KWTAF
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:The frontrunner in France's presidential election race, conservative Francois Fillon, was facing turmoil on Wednesday (January 25) after a media report said that his wife, who worked for him when he was a legislator, had been paid for fictitious employment.
Fillon, 62, a former prime minister who is tipped to win the presidency in May, acknowledged that his wife had worked for him but denied the fictitious employment allegations.
Fillon acted quickly to dampen possible scandal after a satirical weekly reported that Penelope Fillon - who was born in Wales - had drawn about 500,000 euros ($536,300) in salary over eight years for working as an assistant to her husband when he was a lawmaker in the National Assembly and later to the man who replaced him.
It is not illegal for French parliamentarians to employ a family member in their office.
However, Le Canard Enchaine, a highly popular satirical newspaper which has been lifting the lid on scandal in high places in France for decades, said its reporters had found practically no sign that Penelope Fillon had actually done any work.
"Francois Fillon has always worked with people around him and Penelope Fillon has always been close to him and I have often seen her working with him," said one of Fillon's allies on France Inter Radio, Bernard Accoyer, also the former President of the French National Assembly.
Responding to the suggestion that Penelope Fillon had not really worked, Accoyer added:
"We are currently in a presidential campaign, any occasion is good for a political controversy. It's quite normal, and targeting candidates through their families is quite typical," he said.
Officials gave no details of how much Penelope Fillon had been paid.
Francois Fillon, a political veteran who served in several government posts before being prime minister under right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy from 2007-12, enjoys the reputation of a country gentleman and family man.
The quick reaction to the newspaper report about his wife suggested that Fillon's camp was eager to stamp out any report that could hurt that wholesome image as the race for the presidency gathers pace.
The front-runner in ongoing Socialist primaries, Benoit Hamon, said an anti-nepotism law should be in place.
"I think there is a quite simple answer to this, which is that all parliament members must no longer have the right to hire his child, a cousin, wife... We need a strong separation between this role and the hiring power it gives. If we do that, things would become clearer and more simple,"
Hamon said on the France 2 television channel.
While Fillon is favourite to win the election in May, he will face a strong challenge from the far-right leader Marine Le Pen and possibly from independent centrist Emmanuel Macron.
Le Pen, whose party is facing a judicial investigation that was opened by the Paris prosecutor in December 2016 over the employment of assistants to the party's lawmakers in the European Parliament, said this was just an attempt to smear a candidate.
"The power (in place) is using the opening of investigations, it's easy, it doesn't mean you're guilty but it allows to throw dirt on people in the media. So I won't go into those smearing campaigns," she said on Europe 1 radio.
Shortly before Fillon went on to win the nomination of The Republicans in a primary vote last November, he gave a half-hour interview to a television channel in the grounds of the sprawling chateau near Le Mans where he lives with Penelope. The couple married in 1980 and have five children.
In that interview he emphasized the importance of family, saying he would never allow politics to encroach on his private life.
But on the streets of Paris, such controversy doesn't come as a surprise.
"They're all the same, they think of themselves, they all try to get money, I don't think that it's quite normal that this woman earned all that money," said France, a Parisian.
"Either you make a law as in other countries or you don't bother. In France it's legal, you can hire whoever you want so it's legal," commented another.
"It's almost a mafia system, there are too many privileges," said Parisian Laurence.
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