French presidential candidate facing financial investigation

The centre-right Republican Party candidate has refused to withdraw from the election claiming he is the victim of "political assassination"

French presidential candidate facing financial investigation

Conservative French presidential candidate Francois Fillon applauds while his wife Penelope looks on. Picture by Christophe Ena AP/Press Association Images

Updated 12:00

One of the main candidates in the French presidential election has refused to withdraw from the contest after being summoned for questioning over claims he gave his wife a “fake job.”

Francois Fillon postponed a public appearance in Paris this morning after reports in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper revealed he is facing questions from French magistrates investigating the scandal.

Addressing reporters this afternoon, the 62-year-old candidate for the centre-right Republican Party refused to withdraw his candidacy.

He denied any wrongdoing and insisted his wife was performing a proper job.

He confirmed he will be summoned by magistrates on March 15th but described the inquiry as "political assassination."

"I won't give in, I won't surrender, I won't pull out, I will fight to the end," he said.

"From the start, I have not been treated like anyone else facing the justice system," he said. "It is not just me they are killing, but the French presidential election."

Penelopegate 

It comes as prosecutors denied reports that Mr Fillon's wife Penelope was being held for questioning over allegations she was paid €830,000 in public funds for work she did not do.

Mr Fillon told reporters he did not use public money and gave work to those close to him because he knew he could trust them.

The affair has rocked his presidential campaign with polls predicting that he is now facing elimination in the first-round of voting due to take place on April 23rd.

The former French prime minister was favourite to become the country’s next president before the scandal broke.

Run-off vote

The latest polls suggest far-right candidate Marine Le Pen could now win the first round of voting with as much as 27% of the vote - with centre-left independent Emmanuel Macron coming in second with 23%.

Mr Macron is expected to win the run-off vote with polls predicting a heavy defeat for the anti-euro, anti-immigration Ms Le Pen.

On Sunday, justice minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas promised “no let-up” of investigations into the finances of both Mr Fillon and Ms Le Pen - who is also accused of misusing public money.

"Imagine that during the presidential campaign you can't investigate?" said Mr Urvoas. "There is no law allowing a suspension like that. What would be the reason? In the name of what exception? In my opinion, nothing could justify it."

French prosecutors launched a full judicial inquiry into the financial scandal – which has become known as “Penelopegate” – last week.

The allegations were first published by satirical magazine Le Canard Enchaine.

The magazine said the Welsh-born Mrs Fillon was paid from state funds between 1998 and 2013 for working as a parliamentary assistant - but could not find any evidence of work that had been carried out.

Mr Fillon has denied any wrongdoing and said his wife was working a proper job.

Two of the couple's children, Marie and Charles, have also been interviewed by investigators over claims they held "fake jobs."