- Title: Supporters cheer embattled Fillon couple at French election rally
- Date: 29th January 2017
- Summary: PARIS, FRANCE (JANUARY 29, 2017) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF CROWD CHEERING
- Embargoed: 12th February 2017 17:07
- Keywords: Fillon Francois Penelope France right rally fake job
- Location: PARIS, FRANCE
- City: PARIS, FRANCE
- Country: France
- Topics: Government/Politics,Elections/Voting
- Reuters ID: LVA002614V96V
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Thousands of supporters gave embattled French presidential candidate Francois Fillon and his wife a standing ovation at a rally on Sunday (January 29), in a show of support after his campaign was thrown off track by allegations of misuse of public funds.
Satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine reported on Wednesday that Penelope Fillon had been paid thousands of euros as a parliamentary assistant for Fillon and his successor but that it could find no proof of her having actually done any work.
Fillon, a conservative former prime minister, was the clear favourite to win the spring election but an opinion survey on Friday suggested the report might be harming his popularity.
Fillon has denied any wrongdoing and says his wife's jobs, which also included working for a cultural magazine, were not fake. Penelope Fillon has not yet responded to the allegations.
"She (Penelope Fillon) has been at my side discreetly, devotedly, I've built my career with her. We have nothing to hide," an emotional Fillon told the rally which party officials said was attended by over 13,000 people.
"Three months from the presidential election, surprise surprise, a scandal has been whipped up. People are trying to bringing me down through Penelope. I'm not afraid of anything. I have a thick skin. If you want to attack me, attack me head on, but leave my wife out of this political debate," he said.
Though it is legal in France for parliamentarians to employ family members, it is illegal to do so if no work was done. Financial prosecutors have opened an investigation into suspected misuse of public funds.
The allegations have dented the wholesome image that Fillon, 62, a devout Catholic with 30 scandal-free years in politics, has sought to project. But supporters at the rally dismissed their impact.
"They're sticking things on him four months before an election, it's a scandal what they're doing," Fillon supporter Yvonne Courtille said.
In his speech to Sunday's rally, Fillon, whose platform focused on hefty spending cuts has drawn criticism even from within his own party, said he would increase pensions of below 1,000 euros a month by over 300 euros. Payroll tax cuts would also benefit workers, he said.
Fillon has said he would drop out of the race if he was to be put under formal investigation. Judicial sources have said they cannot predict how long the inquiry will take.
Le Canard Enchaine said that Penelope Fillon over the years has received total of 600,000 euros ($642,000) for her jobs as parliamentary assistant and later at the magazine.
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