Ex-French prime minister and his wife found guilty over €1m fraud

Cheryl Sanders
June 30, 2020

Francois Fillon was sentenced to five years in prison, three of which were suspended, and slapped with a $423,000 fine but remains free pending appeal.

Both must also pay fines of €375,000.

The scandal broke in the French media just three months before the country's 2017 presidential election.

The scandal that became known as "Penelopegate" erupted when the satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchainé alleged that the veteran centre-right politician had paid his wife and children out of public funds to work as his assistants.

Fillon's lawyers are likely to appeal the ruling, as they have said the trial and charges were created to block Fillon from again seeking the presidency, a post he was once a leading contender for. "It's not fair", said Antonin Levy, a lawyer for Fillon.

The court on Monday barred Fillon from holding public office for 10 years, while Penelope received a two-year ban.

"She did not have any professional activity alongside her husband", the court added.

Fillon was sentenced to five years in jail, with three years suspended.

Prosecutors denounced "fraudulent, systematic practices".

The former head of government under Nicolas Sarkozy was declared guilty of misusing public money.

French investigators have said Penelope Fillon never set foot in the National Assembly despite being paid as a full-time aide, first to her husband when he was in Parliament and then his replacement.

French former Prime Minister Francois Fillon arrives at the courthouse in Paris, France, June 29, 2020.

Prosecutors pointed at the lack of actual evidence of her 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 said working that way allowed her to have a flexible schedule and raise their five children in the Fillons' countryside manor.

Fillon insisted his wife had been properly and gainfully employed, opening his letters and helping with vital parliamentary work.

He was also accused of getting the millionaire owner of a literary magazine to pay his wife 135,000 euros for "consulting work" that was largely fake. He was found guilty and sentenced to a three-year suspended prison sentence.

The ex-prime minister under President Nicolas Sarkozy, a Republican, Fillon was considered one of the frontrunners in the race - alongside National Front leader Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron who eventually emerged as the victor. He was also a minister under two previous presidents, Francois Mitterand and Jacques Chirac.

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