The former French prime minister Francois Fillon has been found guilty of fraud and given a five-year sentence after using public funds to pay his wife and children more than €1 million (Dh4.1m) since 1998 for work they never performed.
A court in Paris sentenced Fillon, 66, to five years in jail, three of which were suspended although he remains free pending an appeal. The former presidential candidate was given a €375,000 fine and banned from seeking office for 10 years.
Fillon was accused of misuse of public funds, receiving money from the misuse of public funds and the misappropriation of company assets.
His 64-year-old wife, Penelope, was found guilty as an accomplice, given a three-year suspended sentence and also fined €375,000.
In addition, the couple was requested to reimburse the National Assembly more than €1m that correspond to the salaries and payroll charges that were paid. They had denied any wrongdoing.
The convictions mark a devastating fall from grace for a man who was seen as the front-runner in the country’s 2017 race to be president before the scandal broke only three months before the election. He fell to third place and was leapfrogged by Emmanuel Macron, the current president.
Fillon served as prime minister under president Nicolas Sarkozy from 2007 to 2012. He was also a minister under two previous presidents, Francois Mitterand and Jacques Chirac.
The Paris court considered that Fillon “elaborated and established an organisation enabling him to misappropriate money for his personal use”.
The court said that “nothing concrete has been proven in court regarding the work of Mrs Fillon”.
“She did not have any professional activity alongside her husband," the court added. “Nothing justifies the paid salaries."
Fillon’s lawyer vowed to overturn the verdict. “There will be a new trial . We will be able to get a full and serene debate that will finally allow justice to be made,” Antonin Levy told reporters.
During the trial prosecutors pointed at the lack of evidence of Mrs Fillon’s work, including the absence of declarations for any paid vacations or maternity leave, as her wages reached up to nine times France’s minimum salary.
She described her work as mostly doing reports about local issues, opening the mail, meeting with residents and helping to prepare speeches for local events. She said working that way allowed her to have a flexible schedule and raise their five children in the Fillons’ countryside manor.