Former French PM Convicted Over Wife’s $1.1 Million Fake Job
(Bloomberg) -- Former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon and his wife Penelope were found guilty of embezzling more than 1 million euros ($1.1 million) in a scandal over a fake advisory job that left his ambitions of becoming president in tatters.
Presiding Judge Nathalie Gavarino said Penelope Fillon’s role as parliamentary aide lasting about a decade was without substance, in a ruling at a Paris criminal court on Monday. Fillon was given a five-year jail term, of which three are suspended. His wife got a three-year suspended prison sentence.
Francois Fillon “contributed to erosion of the trust that citizens place in those they elect,” Gavarino said. He breached the duties of probity and exemplary behavior that are required of a French prime minister and member of parliament, she added.
The Fillon revelations in early 2017 derailed his campaign to become France’s next president. The center-right politician had been a clear favorite while the governing Socialists’ candidate as well as a relatively novice Emmanuel Macron lagged behind in polls. Far-right leader Marine Le Pen had a very slim chance of winning the runoff.
After his defeat, Fillon quit politics and within months was named senior partner at French money manager Tikehau Capital.
Fillon was fined 375,000 euros and banned from holding elected office for ten years. The couple were also ordered to pay more than 1 million euros in damages to France’s National Assembly. They both said they would appeal Monday’s ruling, putting on hold their sentences.
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. She had no timetable, no work computer, mobile phone or email address linked to the job in Parliament but her salary averaged $140,000 a year for a time.
The Paris criminal court highlighted the couple’s denial of the accusations throughout the probe and trial as a factor behind the tough sentence.
“It shows that Francois Fillon did not carry out any soul-searching,” the judges wrote in their ruling.
The judges said Penelope was paid by her husband “for fictitious services, or very largely overvalued services that were in disconnect with the salary received.” These funds “were meant to be used to pay an employee whose task was to assist him in the exercise of his mandate.”
Already in 2017, Fillon claimed he was the victim of a plot directed from high up. He’d accused then-President Francois Hollande of running a covert operation to accelerate the criminal probe and spread damaging information.
He maintained that defense in court.
“The objective was to prevent me from running for president in normal circumstances,” Fillon said in February during the trial hearings.
A fresh conspiracy row emerged shortly before Monday’s verdict but it was dismissed by the Paris criminal court. Eliane Houlette, formerly the head of the financial prosecution office or PNF, told French lawmakers earlier this month that her boss pressured her during the probe. But judges didn’t entertain the idea of postponing their verdict and reopening court proceedings, as requested by Fillon’s lawyer.
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