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Macron seeks review of fraud case against ex-rival Fillon

President Emmanuel Macron has called for a probe into claims that prosecutors were pressured to move fast in a fraud inquiry against Francois Fillon, a former prime minister and his main rightwing rival in France's 2017 presidential race.

Macron seeks review of fraud case against ex-rival Fillon
Francois Fillon. Photo: AFP

Fillon lost what many considered a certain victory after a newspaper report claimed that he orchestrated a fake parliamentary assistant job for his wife that saw her paid hundreds of thousands of euros (dollars) in public funds.

A ruling will be handed down on June 29 after a trial in which Fillon vigorously denied the claims, saying he was the victim of a political hit job.

The scandal flared anew this week after it emerged that the former head of France's Financial Prosecutor's Office (PNF) told lawmakers she had sustained “pressure” and “very strict oversight” aimed at bringing charges quickly against Fillon.

Fillon's supporters seized on the comments as proof that the prosecutor's superiors, possibly acting at the behest of justice ministry officials, had infringed upon the judiciary's independence to speed his downfall.

He was charged six weeks after the fraud claims emerged in the Canard Enchaine newspaper, an unusually swift move in a country where legal inquiries can take months or years.

The top Paris public prosecutor denied exercising any undue pressure, and on Friday the former financial prosecutor, Eliane Houlette, tried to walk back her statements, saying she “regretted” that they had been “distorted or misunderstood.”

 

But the uproar prompted Macron's office to say late Friday that the president had asked France's judicial watchdog, the Supreme Judiciary Council, to investigate the claims.

“These statements, which have provoked a significant outcry, have been interpreted as showing that pressure could have been put on the judiciary during a critical moment in our democratic process,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement.

“It is therefore essential to remove all doubt on the independence and impartiality of the justice system in this matter,” it said.

Prosecutors have asked the Paris court to give Fillon, 66, a five-year sentence, with three years suspended, as well as a three-year suspended jail term for his Welsh-born wife Penelope.

They accuse Fillon of paying his wife 613,000 euros net ($700,000) in public money over 15 years for a fictitious job, saying the couple produced no solid proof she ever carried out any significant work.

 

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POLITICS

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France’s disabilities minister

France's disabilities minister will not face a new inquiry "as things stand" over a rape allegation that surfaced just after his nomination by President Emmanuel Macron last week, prosecutors have said, citing the anonymity of the alleged victim.

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France's disabilities minister

Damien Abad has faced growing pressure to resign after the news website Mediapart reported the assault claims by two women dating from over a decade ago, which he has denied.

One of the women, identified only by her first name, Margaux, filed a rape complaint in 2017 that was later dismissed by prosecutors.

The other woman, known only as Chloe, told Mediapart that in 2010 she had blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne from Abad at a bar in Paris, and woke up in her underwear in pain with him in a hotel room. She believes she may have been drugged.

She did not file an official complaint, but the Paris prosecutors’ office said it was looking into the case after being informed by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics, a group formed by members of France’s MeToo movement.

“As things stand, the Paris prosecutors’ office is not following up on the letter” from the observatory, it said, citing “the inability to identify the victim of the alleged acts and therefore the impossibility of proceeding to a hearing.”

In cases of sexual assault against adults, Paris prosecutors can open an inquiry only if an official complaint is made, meaning the victim must give their identity.

Abad has rejected the calls to resign in order to ensure the new government’s “exemplarity,” saying that he is innocent and that his own condition of arthrogryposis, which limits the movement of his joints, means sexual relations can occur only with the help of a partner.

The appointment of Abad as minister for solidarities and people with disabilities in a reshuffle last Friday was seen as a major coup for Macron, as the 42-year-old had defected from the right-wing opposition.

The new prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, said she was unaware of the allegations before Abad’s nomination, but insisted that “If there is new information, if a new complaint is filed, we will draw all the consequences.”

The claims could loom large over parliamentary elections next month, when Macron is hoping to secure a solid majority for his reformist agenda. Abad will be standing for re-election in the Ain department north of Lyon.

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