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ELECTION

François Fillon charged with several offences linked to ‘fake jobs’ scandal

French presidential candidate François Fillon was officially charged on Tuesday over the "fake jobs" scandal involving his British wife Penelope. The conservative is being investigated for various offences including misuse of public funds.

François Fillon charged with several offences linked to 'fake jobs' scandal
Photo: AFP

“He was charged this morning. The hearing was brought forward so that it could take place in a calm manner,” his lawyer Antonin Levy told AFP.

Fillon was also charged with misuse of corporate assets, he said.

The candidate had already made it public in a heated press conference two weeks ago that he had been summoned by judges with a view to being charged.

Fillon has been fighting claims by Le Canard Enchainé newspaper that he used allowances to pay his British-born wife Penelope at least €680,000 ($720,000) over some 15 years as a parliamentary aide.

Although French lawmakers are allowed to employ family members, it is unclear what work Penelope actually did.

Lawyers for the couple said previously they were confident the investigators would find them “innocent, at last”.

The Canard Enchainé has also alleged Fillon's wife was also paid tens of thousands of euros by a literary review, the Revue des Deux Mondes, owned by her husband's billionaire friend, Marc Ladreit de Lacharriere.

Magistrates are investigating whether this amounted to misappropriation of corporate assets.

The probe also centres around the fact two of Fillon's children were paid as parliamentary advisors for brief periods.

The Fillons have argued that Penelope was legitimately employed and the couple's lawyers say they have provided proof of the work she did.

Despite the scandal hitting his opinion poll ratings Fillon has resisted pressure to step down both from the media and within his own party.

Scores of MPs from his Republicans party walked away from his campaign when it emerged two weeks ago that he was to be charged.

Many like his foreign affairs spokesman Bruno Le Maire were furious Fillon had initially said he would step down if mise en examen, the nearest French equivalent to being charged.

The candidate who enjoyed a handsome victory in the party's primary in November then changed tack, angrily denouncing the case as an attempted “political assassination”.

The charges do not mean Fillon will automatically face trial. Magistrates may eventually decide there is not a case to answer or not enough evidence to take to a trial.

Either way the probe is unlikely to be resolved before the French presidential election, the first round of which is on April 23rd.

A new poll on Tuesday showed Fillon had closed the gap on liberal Emmanuel Macron but still wouldn't make the second round run-off vote which would be between Macron and Le Pen.

But having fought on until now in a wildly unpredictable election no one is ready to rule Fillon out of the running, fake jobs scandal or not.

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ELECTION

Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron

The far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen finished top in European elections in France on Sunday, dealing a blow to pro-European President Emmanuel Macron.

Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron
Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella. Photo: AFP

Results released on Monday morning by the Ministry of the Interior, which have yet to be formally verified and declared by the National Voting Commission, showed that the far right Rassemblement National (RN) party topped the polls with 23.3 percent of the vote, beating French president Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche.

They were closely followed by Macron's party, which polled 22.4 percent.

Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron at a polling station in Le Touquet earlier on Sunday. Photo: AFP

The allocation of seats in the European Parliament has been complicated for France by the UK's delayed departure from the EU.

The Parliament had already decided that after Brexit, some of the seats that had been occupied by British MEPs would be reallocated to other countries, with France set to gain an extra five seats

However, last minute delays to Brexit meant that the UK had to take part in the elections, with the result that France will not gain its extra seats until Britain leaves the EU.

On last night's polling results, the RN will get 22 seats in the European parliament immediately, and an extra seat once Britain leaves.

Macron's LREM will get 21 seats now and 23 after the UK leaves.

The green party lead by Yannick Jadot was placed third with 13.4 percent of the vote, gaining 12 seats now and 13 after Brexit. 

The two parties that between them had dominated French politics for decades until the rise of Macron both polled in single figures. Nicolas Sarkozy's old party Les Republicains polled 8.4 percent, while the Socialist party of Francois Hollande was on 6.31 percent, winning them eight and six seats respectively.

Meanwhile the 'yellow vest' candidates scored just 0.54 percent of the vote, below the Animalist party which polled 2.17 percent.

Nathalie Loiseau with LREM party workers. Photo: AFP

Although a total of 34 parties fielded candidates in the European elections in France, the election had largely been framed as a contest between Macron and Le Pen.

Macron's La Republique En Marche party, its list headed by former Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau, was contesting its first European elections.

Marine Le Pen, on the other hand, was hoping to replicate her 2014 European election victory with her Rassemblement National party, its list headed by a political novice, the 23-year-old Jordan Bardella. Bardella called the results a “failure” for the LREM ruling party and sought to portray Macron's defeat as a rejection by voters of his pro-business agenda in France and pro-EU vision.

Macron had made no secret of the significance he attached to the results, telling regional French newspapers last week that the EU elections were the most important for four decades as the union faced an “existential threat”.

Jordan Bardella, head of the RN list. Photo: AFP

He has jumped into the campaign himself in recent weeks, appearing alone on an election poster in a move that analysts saw as exposing him personally if LREM underperformed.

The score of the National Rally is slightly below the level of 2014 when it won 24.9 percent, again finishing top.

Le Pen had placed herself towards the bottom of the RN list, so she will be returning to the European Parliament, where she served as an MEP from 2004 to 2017.

Turnout at the polls in France was the highest in recent years, with 50.12 percent of people voting, significantly up from 35.07 percent in 2014.

Veteran France reporter John Lichfield said: “After six months of 'yellow vest' rebellion, that Macron list has 22 percent is respectable. Much better than President Hollande did in 2014 (14.5 percent).

“But he made the election all about himself and lost. His hopes of emerging as de facto EU leader or enacting more French reforms are damaged.”

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