Fillon to Stay in French Race, Saying Wife's Pay Justified

Paris- French right-wing presidential candidate Francois Fillon, once seen as a front-runner to face the far-right Front National's Marine Le Pen in the final round of the presidential election in May, has seen his ratings drop after anti-fraud prosecutors opened an investigation into allegations that he paid his wife and children large amounts of taxpayers' money for fake parliamentary assistant jobs.

Two weeks after it was revealed that his British wife, Penelope, had been employed as a parliamentary assistant, Mr Fillon made his partial admission to try to save his faltering candidacy for the centre-right Republicans Party. "What was acceptable yesterday is no longer acceptable today".

Fillon, 62, said he had hired family members - as allowed in France - out of "trust" but recognised that such practises "create distrust nowadays". "I regret it profoundly and I apologize to the French people".

Fillon, who served as prime minister from 2007 to 2012 under then-President Nicolas Sarkozy, emphasized that the practice is legal, while adding that he understood the outrage of many voters.

If he were forced to quit as the center-right's nominee, it would be unprecedented in six decades of French politics.

Le Monde reported Monday that investigators were also examining Fillon's ties to Marc Ladreit de Lacharriere, the owner of a literary magazine who is also suspected of paying Penelope for a fictitious job.

She has publicly admitted in at least two televised news reports that she did not work for her husband in any official capacity at all.

Fillon has come under pressure to quit the race since a newspaper, Le Canard enchaine, published a report on January 25 alleging that his wife Penelope was paid hundreds of thousands of euros in state money for work she may never have done.

Mr Fillon has consistently denied all allegations, accusing his critics of trying to hijack the election from the right.

The Republican nominee's recovery plan comes in the face of falling in support in the polls since a January 24 report saying that his wife had worked as his parliamentary assistant for many years while showing little to no presence in parliament. He said she was paid an average 3,677 euros per month over 15 years.

An opinion poll on Sunday showed rival independent centrist Emmanuel Macron had overtaken Fillon ahead of the first round of voting in April.

The Conservative canadiate for presidency has began his fight back to be future French President saying his wife's salary was "justified". The polls have Macron winning the second round, with about 63% against Le Pen's 37%.

  • Rogelio Becker