François Fillon became French conservatives’ surprise champion last year, claiming his party’s presidential nomination with an uncompromising right-wing platform. His campaign has since been hit by a series of damaging allegations, and a once confident march to the Elysée Palace has teetered on the edge of disaster. FRANCE 24 takes a look at the key moments in Fillon’s faltering presidential bid.
Last update: 24/03/2017
"If I was placed under formal investigation, I would stand down as a candidate… I would consider myself unfit to lead the country”
In a campaign speech in his hometown in western France, François Fillon takes a swipe at then primary rival Nicolas Sarkozy, placed under formal investigation by French judges in several legal probes.
Initially given little chance of victory by pollsters, Fillon shocks France by claiming the conservative presidential nomination. Touting his traditional values and spotless record, he pledges to drastically slash taxes and public sector jobs. He emerges from the conservative primary as the clear frontrunner in the presidential race.
Fillon’s seemingly unstoppable march to the Elysée hits its first speed bump. The Canard Enchainé newspaper reports that he hired his wife Penelope as a parliamentary assistant for years, which is legal in France, but investigative journalists were unable to find evidence she actually did any work. The Fillon family are suspected of pocketing hundreds of thousands of euros of taxpayers money.
Fillon denies the allegation his wife benefited from a fake job, but more embarrassing revelations quickly follow. The Canard Enchainé reports not only that Penelope was paid more than €900,000 by her husband, but that two of their children were also hired as parliamentary assistants for an additional €84,000.
“I have never been actually his assistant or anything like that. No, I don’t deal with his communication.”
France 2 television broadcasts a 2007 interview with the Sunday Telegraph, in which Penelope Fillon says she likes to follow her husband on the campaign trail, but has never worked as his assistant.
Rumours swirl as Fillon cancels a key campaign stop at the Paris Agriculture Fair and meets with Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppé, the runner-up in the primary. Many political observers expect Fillon to end his campaign. Instead he delivers a fiery speech, acknowledging he will likely be placed under investigation by judges, but pledging to stay in the race. He claims he is the victim of a “political assassination” attempt by unnamed conspirators and a biased judiciary.
Fillon is hit by a flurry of defections, including his campaign manager and coalition partners, the UDI party. They accuse the candidate of going back on his pledge to stand down if he was placed under formal investigation. Many call on Juppé to replace Fillon on the conservative ticket.
As charges loom and police search his Paris home, Fillon organises a rally to show he still enjoys massive support among conservative voters. The event is a success, but many expect him to bow out of the race during a TV interview that evening. Fillon defiantly says he will remain, but tones down his rhetoric against the judiciary.
The Journal du Dimanche weekly claims that an anonymous benefactor had paid nearly €48,500 in luxury suits for Fillon since 2012.
Controversial French lawyer and Françafrique veteran Robert Bourgi later reveals that he is the benefactor, but says he expected no political favours in return for the gifts.
Fillon’s legal problems deepen, with financial prosecutors expanding the “fake jobs” probe to include alleged forgery of documents.
The Canard Enchaîné also reports that Fillon introduced a Lebanese oil pipeline builder, from whom he received $50,000 as part of a lobbying contract, to Russian President Vladimir Putin at a business forum in St. Petersburg in 2015. Fillon previously denied having commercial ties to Russian firms or to the Kremlin.
On live television, Fillon accuses President François Hollande of heading a “secret cell” spreading damaging leaks to hamper his campaign and of obtaining wiretaps from judicial probes “which is totally illegal”. Fillon cites a forthcoming book co-authored by Canard Enchaîné journalists as his source for the charge, but one author quickly denies his book contains any such allegation. The Elysée Palace immediately “condemns Fillon’s dishonest allegations in the strongest terms”.