Former French prime minister denies wrongdoing in ‘fake jobs’ trial

Francois Fillon and wife Penelope face up to 10 years in prison and hefty fine if convicted

TOPSHOT - Former French Prime minister Francois Fillon (R) arrives at Paris' courthouse, on February 26, 2020, for the opening hearing of his trial along with his wife Penelope over claims they embezzled over one million euros in an alleged fake-jobs fraud.
 Investigators suspect that Fillon, 65, hired his Welsh-born wife Penelope as his parliamentary assistant between 1998 and 2013, without having her do any actual work. / AFP / Martin BUREAU
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Former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said on Thursday that he wanted to “make the truth be known” at his fraud trial in a Paris court.

Mr Fillon, 65, is facing charges after he used public funds to pay his wife and children for work they allegedly never performed.

He had denied wrongdoing and said he had already been sentenced by the “media court”.

“The goal was clear: to prevent me from running in normal conditions in the presidential election,” Mr Fillon said. “Damages are irreparable.”

French media broke the scandal in January 2017, three months before a presidential election in which Mr Fillon was considered the front-runner.

The revelations crushed his campaign. He was eliminated from the race after finishing third in the first round, behind centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine le Pen.

Mr Fillon is suspected of having given jobs as parliamentary aides, involving no sustained work, to his wife and two of their children from 1998 to 2013.

Altogether, the family was paid more than €1 million (Dh4m).

The former prime minister said there was no documentation to prove his wife had done the work because he kept no archives of his parliamentary work in his electoral district, in the rural Sarthe region in western France.

Welsh-born Penelope Fillon has always kept a low profile.

She told the court her job consisted mostly of handling her husband’s mail, helping him to prepare events and speeches, and providing information on local issues.

Ms Fillon said she never worked at the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, to which her husband was first elected in 1981.

Asked about her well-paid job, she said repeatedly that her husband was in charge of making those types of decisions.

Ms Fillon said she did not remember well the successive contracts she had as a parliamentary aide.

Mr Fillon said that, according to the principle of separation of powers, the justice system could not interfere with a legislator’s choices and how he organised work at his office.

He served as prime minister under president Nicolas Sarkozy from 2007 to 2012.

The trial is scheduled to last until March 11. If convicted, Mr Fillon and his wife face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of €150,000.