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French ex-PM Francois Fillon and British wife handed prison sentences over fake jobs fraud

Former French premier François Fillon and his British-born wife Penelope were found guilty by a Paris court Monday on charges he orchestrated a fake job as parliamentary assistant for her.

French ex-PM Francois Fillon and British wife handed prison sentences over fake jobs fraud
Former French Prime minister Francois Fillon and his wife Penelope Fillon arrive at the Paris' courthouse on June 29th, 2020 for the ruling on a trial for embezzlement in the context of an alleged job
François Fillon was sentenced to five years in prison, three of which were suspended, meaning he will spend two years behind bars.
 
He was also handed a €375,000 fine and banned from public office for 10 years.
 
His wife, Penelope Fillon, 64, was handed a three-year suspended sentence and the same fine. Her lawyer described the punishment as “extremely severe”.
 
The verdict was a long-awaited end to a political scandal that began when François Fillon, 66, was accused of creating a post that paid his wife over one million euros in public funds, a scandal that torpedoed his 2017 presidential bid.
 
 
The then-leader of the conservative party Les Républicains was widely tipped to win the presidency when the French Canard Enchaine newspaper reported that Penelope Fillon had been his parliamentary assistant for 15 years – except there was no evidence that she did any work.
 
In its verdict the court concluded that the payment Penelope Fillon had received “was not in proportion with her activities.”

“Her role was limited to simple transmission”, said the president of the court.

'Perfectly justified'

To defend herself from the accusations against her, Penelope Fillon told the court she had spent a lot of time sorting her husband's mail, attending public events near their rural manor and gathering information for his speeches.
 
But investigators seized on a 2016 newspaper interview in which she said: “Until now, I have never got involved in my husband's political life.”

At the height of the scandal in January 2017, François Fillon had told the media his wife's salary was “perfectly justified for the indispensable work she did for him.”

After the verdict his lawyer said the court's decision was “unjust” and announced his intention to appeal.

“There will be a new trial, which is necessary given the ludicrous conditions in which the investigation took place and the surprising conditions in which the investigation was carried out,” said Fillon's lawyer Antonin Lévy.

 

'Penelopegate' 

“Penelopegate”, as the case was known, is one of a number of fraud cases against senior politicians opened in recent months and seen by some as a test of whether the French elite can be held accountable.

The revelations dealt a body blow to François Fillon's carefully honed image as a stern budgetary steward, despite his insistence that his wife had earned the €1.05 million she was paid from 1998 to 2013.
 
It later emerged Fillon had also used public money to pay two of his children a combined 117,000 euros for alleged sham work while he was a senator, before becoming premier in the government of then-president Nicolas Sarkozy.
 
The allegations that François Fillon had pilfered the public coffers for years pummelled his image as an upright fiscal hawk promising to right the country's finances – and loomed large in the “yellow vest” anti-government protests that rocked the country in 2018-2019.
 
François Fillon has repeatedly insisted that he was set up for “political assassination” by his rivals and was also the victim of a biased judiciary.
 
François Fillon’s lawyer said they would appeal the court's decision.
 
A third defendant, Marc Joulaud – who stood in for Fillon in parliament when he was a cabinet minister, and who also hired Penelope Fillon as an assistant – was also found guilty and handed a three year suspended sentence.

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POLITICS

French diplomats to strike over ‘avalanche’ of reforms

French diplomats are to strike next month for only the second time in their history, protesting an "avalanche" of reforms that unions say are undermining the foreign service at a time of global tensions.

French diplomats to strike over 'avalanche' of reforms

“The Quai d’Orsay is disappearing little by little,” read a statement from six staff unions, using a familiar name for the French foreign ministry’s headquarters on the south bank of the Seine in central Paris.

The main complaint is a reform to career structures which will see the special status accorded to the most senior diplomats scrapped from next year, unions say.

“These measures dismantling our diplomatic service make no sense at a time when war has returned in Europe,” their joint statement said.

Under changes championed by President Emmanuel Macron, and rushed through by decree in April, top foreign service officials would lose their special protected status and be absorbed in a larger pool of elite public sector workers.

This could mean France’s roughly 700 most senior diplomats being asked to join other ministries and facing competition from non-diplomats for top postings.

“We’re very worried,” one serving diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity. “We’re not interchangeable. I have the utmost respect for my colleagues in other state services but I don’t know how to do their job and they don’t know how to do mine.”

The strike has been called for June 2nd.

France has the third-biggest foreign service in the world after China and the United States, with around 14,000 employees at the foreign ministry in total.

The vast majority of these are non-diplomats or people on local contracts in countries around the world.

The aim of the government shake-up is to encourage more mobility between state services, which have historically been divided up into separate units with rules and job protections that make moving between them very difficult.

The government is also keen to attract new, more diverse candidates to the diplomatic service by opening new routes to the ministry, but critics see a danger of political interference.

“The door is now open to American-style nominations,” former ambassador to Washington and vocal critic of the reform, Gerard Araud, tweeted last month.

American ambassadors are named by the president, who often uses the power to reward political allies and donors with plum foreign postings.

The last and only strike by French diplomats was in 2003 to push for pay increases.

The stoppage on June 2nd underlines “the real malaise in the ministry, which does not have a rebellious culture,” Olivier da Silva from the CFTC union said.

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