Trial to begin of former French PM Fillon over fake jobs scandal

By Elizabeth Pineau
Former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon leaves after a national ceremony for late Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame at the Hotel des Invalides in Paris

By Elizabeth Pineau

PARIS (Reuters) - Former French prime minister Francois Fillon and his wife Penelope go on trial on Monday over a fake jobs scandal that wrecked his 2017 run for president and opened the Elysee Palace door for Emmanuel Macron.

Fillon's bid for the presidency unraveled after allegations he paid his wife hundreds of thousands of euros for doing little, if any, work as his parliamentary assistant.

A consummate political insider who was prime minister under Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency, Fillon was the comfortable frontrunner in the election race when the allegations surfaced. He denied wrongdoing, resisted party pressure to pull his candidacy, and was eliminated in the first round of the vote.

Fillon said in an interview last month that his wife had been his most important employee and that her work for him would be proven at trial.

"She managed my constituency diary and my mail, and edited the speeches I was making," he told public broadcaster France 2.

Investigators estimate Penelope Fillon received 1 million euros ($1 million) from her husband's office over a three decade period from the early 1980s to 2013.

When the scandal broke, Fillon denounced what he called a campaign of dirty tricks and denied having done anything illegal, though he admitted an error of judgment. He told France 2 he may have made mistakes.

"I surely committed errors but there is something that I will not accept, and that is that people think that I am dishonest or that I sought to con the French people," he said.

Fillon is accused of embezzling public funds, a charge which carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a 1 million euro fine. His wife is charged with complicity to embezzlement and concealment of public money.

A lawyer for the couple was not available for comment.

Facing the judges beside the Fillons will be Marc Joulaud, who is accused of continuing to channel funds to Penelope Fillon after he took the conservative politician's parliamentary seat while he was in government. He also denies the changes.

The French parliament, which is a claimant in the case, this week said it was seeking more than 1 million euros in damages from Francois Fillon and Joulaud.

Fillons' defense team will ask the judges on Monday that the trial be postponed by two days in support of a strike by lawyers against Macron's pension reform, France's AFP news agency reported.

Fillon now works for investment management firm Tikehau Capital.


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(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Editing by Richard Lough and David Holmes)