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French Fillon in scandal over wife's salary

French Fillon in scandal over wife's salaryFrench presidential candidate Francois Fillon sought to fight off a scandal about his wife following a press report that she earned big salaries for work she never did - a charge that could upset his smooth ride into the presidency, according to Reuters on Wednesday.

Fillon, a right-wing former prime minister, said he was outraged at the report by the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine which he said showed "contempt and misogyny".

"I see the stinkbomb season has started," the 62-year-old commented to journalists in the city of Bordeaux.

It is common practice for French parliamentarians to employ wives, children and even mistresses in their office.

But the allegation that Fillon's British-born wife, Penelope, was paid for fake jobs - a charge to which he did not reply directly on Wednesday - could undermine his pledge to pursue an honest and transparent campaign and hurt his ratings as the race for the presidency gathers pace.

Le Canard Enchaine reported that Penelope Fillon had been paid 600,000 euros ($644,700) for many years of employment as a parliamentary assistant to him and later to his replacement as a National Assembly lawmaker, and for work at a cultural journal.

It said that its research had showed there was no evidence she had ever really worked. Fillon's public relations team have emphasized there is nothing illegal about her working for her husband in the National Assembly. They explained her apparent lack of presence in the work-place by saying she preferred to work "in the background", in keeping with her self-effacing style. They have not said how much she was paid.

Fillon is running for The Republicans party in the presidential election on April 23 and May 7.

While favorite to win election, he faces a strong challenge from the far-right leader Marine Le Pen, second in the polls, and from independent centrist Emmanuel Macron.

That lead could be affected by how Fillon handles a crisis that risks denting his image as a devout Catholic and family man with a relatively scandal-free record in office.

Polls have for months highlighted voter discontent with the political elite and any hint of improper use of public finances could worsen that perception at his expense.

Socialist former prime minister Manuel Valls, who hopes to win his party's ticket as presidential candidate, urged Fillon to explain himself on the matter.

"You can't be the candidate of honesty and transparency and not respond," Valls told France Inter radio.

Le Pen, Fillon's main election foe, usually trades in voter distrust of mainstream leaders but she remained conspicuously silent. Her own National Front party is under judicial investigation over allegations of improper employment of assistants by its lawmakers in the European Parliament.
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