Former French prime minister Fillon appeals five-year sentence for corruption

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A French court on Monday began hearing an appeal from former Prime Minister François Fillon against a conviction in a corruption scandal that torpedoed his presidential ambitions and sealed the ascension of Emmanuel Macron.

After five years of turbulent socialist rule, the conservative Fillon, now 67, was in a hurry to regain the presidency of the right in 2017.

But three months before the vote, his campaign was hit by revelations that his wife Penelope had been paid more than € 800,000 ($ 915,000) over 15 years for alleged bogus work as a parliamentary assistant.

Fillon, a former MP who served as prime minister from 2007 to 2012, denied any wrongdoing and refused to quit the race but was eliminated in the first round after being accused of embezzlement of public funds.

In June 2020, a court ruled that Penelope’s work was either “fictitious or greatly overestimated” and sentenced Fillon to five years in prison, including three years suspended, and barred her from holding elected office for 10 years. years.

His wife of Welsh origin, 66, received a suspended sentence.

Fillon, who later withdrew from politics, was allowed to free himself pending the outcome of the couple’s appeal.

The couple did not speak to reporters when they arrived at the Paris courthouse on Monday.

Fillon is one of the many French politicians to have been tried for corruption in recent years, most of them from the ranks of the conservatives.

His former boss, ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy, was sentenced to two prison terms in two separate trials this year, one for attempting to bribe a judge and the other for illegal campaign financing.

Sarkozy, who was the first post-war French president to be sentenced to prison, has appealed the two decisions.

In 2011, former center-right president Jacques Chirac was given a suspended sentence for a party funding scandal while on the left, former Budget Minister Jérôme Cahuzac caused deep embarrassment after being found guilty of tax evasion.

‘Mr.Clean’

Fillon admitted to having “certainly made mistakes” but denies having tried to deceive taxpayers by using the funds made available to deputies for parliamentary assistants to enrich his family.

He insists that his wife has done a real job, including organizing his mail and rereading his speeches.

The devout Catholic had witnessed an attempt to return Sarkozy to win the Republican nomination in 2016 after campaigning as “Mr. Clean”.

The failure of his presidential candidacy left his party in disarray.

Without a champion of their own left in the race, most conservatives have shifted their support to upstart centrist Macron, who has poached several senior Republicans in his march to power.

Fillon’s appeal, which will cover the same ground as the original trial, comes as Republicans seek a new standard bearer to run against Macron in next year’s election.

Two of the five candidates running for the nomination have pledged to drastically reduce the number of civil servants if elected, echoing one of Fillon’s main promises.

“If (Fillon) had been elected, I think France would not be relegated to the second division of nations,” said one of the contenders, MP Eric Ciotti, during a debate televised last week.

“Penelopegate” has been one of the biggest political scandals in France for decades. For several weeks, the investigative journal Canard Enchainé drip fed allegations.

The Fillons have also been hit by allegations of bogus Senate jobs for two of their five children and another bogus job for Penelope in a magazine owned by a friend of Fillon’s.

The trial court ordered the couple and former Fillon MP Marc Joulaud to reimburse Parliament for more than € 1 million in embezzled funds – a decision that will come into effect if they lose their appeal.

In September, authorities confirmed that Fillon was also under investigation for using public funds to pay his speechwriter to help him write a book for his 2017 campaign.

His lawyer Antonin Levy accused prosecutors of harassing him.

After leaving politics, Fillon started a business consultancy firm. He is also a member of the board of the Russian state oil company Zarubezhneft.

(AXADLETM with AFP)

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