Fillon Charged With Misusing Public Funds Before French Vote – Bloomberg
Francois Fillon was charged Tuesday with misuse of public funds, casting a permanent shadow over his bid to become France’s next president.
Fillon was informed of the charges after being questioned by investigative judges looking at whether family members did any real work while on the public payroll as his parliamentary aides, according to the French financial prosecutor’s office. Fillon, who had been due to meet the judges on Wednesday, has denied any wrongdoing and denounced the investigation as a plot by his political opponents to undermine his candidacy.
“The questioning was brought forward to ensure it took place in calm conditions,” Fillon’s lawyer, Antonin Levy, told Agence France-Presse.
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While the judges’ decision confirms the worst-case scenario for Fillon, he’s already promised to stay in the race whatever happens and faced down a rebellion of party officials seeking his ouster. So the announcement is not a surprise, but it does mean he will be forced to spend more days batting away questions about his integrity instead of talking about his plans to fix the French economy.
French bonds were little changed after the news, with the extra yield investors demand to hold the country’s 10-year debt instead of their German equivalents narrowing 1 basis point to 65 basis points at 4:54 p.m. in Paris.
With less than six weeks to go before the first round of voting, the 63-year-old former prime minister is lying a distant third in the polls, suggesting he’d miss out on the May 7 run-off between independent Emmanuel Macron and the anti-euro nationalist Marine Le Pen.
Fillon started the year as favorite to be France’s next president but stumbled in mid-January after Le Canard Enchaine newspaper reported that he had employed his wife for years as a parliamentary assistant and that she had done little real work for total pay of almost 1 million euros ($1.1 million). His children had also been paid for work they may not have done, the newspaper has said.
Last month, prosecutors extended the probe and turned it over to investigative judge Serge Tournaire. Tournaire sent Fillon a summons to be questioned within days and ordered his home to be searched by police investigators. The probe has also looked into the work Penelope Fillon did for a magazine owned by billionaire Marc Ladreit de Lacharriere, who is a friend of the Republican presidential candidate.
In addition to misuse of public funds, Fillon was also charged with complicity in the misuse of company assets and failure to comply with the transparency requirement for public officials, according to prosecutors.
In French legal proceedings, investigative judges can charge companies or individuals in a procedure known as “mise en examen” when there is “serious and consistent” evidence showing likely involvement in the matter under investigation.
Interrogation sessions with investigative judges are “never pleasant,” according to Stephane Bonifassi, a criminal lawyer in Paris, who’s not involved in the case. They are “experts in quizzing — it’s their job and they know how to ask questions that make you uncomfortable.”
Even after being charged, Fillon may still escape a trial.
Criminal probes typically last several more months. At the end of that process, the judges decide whether to send the case for trial or to dismiss it. Though that decision will likely come to late to shape the candidate’s political future.