French Fillon charged but still in race

French Fillon charged but still in raceFrench presidential candidate Francois Fillon told voters he’s the victim of a plot after being placed under formal investigation, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.

A day after being charged with embezzlement over his wife’s allegedly fake job as a parliamentary aide, the 63-year-old former prime minister insisted on his innocence in a radio interview Wednesday and argued that the courts are being used by his political opponents in the run-up to the first round of voting on April 23.

“Justice is being manipulated against me to prevent me from running. I am innocent,” Fillon told Radio Classique.

The judges’ decision confirms the worst-case scenario for Fillon, who’s already promised to stay in the race whatever happens and faced down a rebellion of party officials seeking his ouster.

OpinionWay’s midday tracking poll, including data collected on the day Fillon was charged, showed the Republican slipping six points behind second-placed Macron in the first round leaving him facing elimination from the runoff on May 7. Independent Emmanuel Macron would beat anti-euro nationalist Marine Le Pen by more than 20 points in the final round, OpinionWay said.

The Republican nominee said he had considered dropping out several times as revelations about his lifestyle and spending piled up, yet he said he didn’t want to deprive right-wing voters of their representative. The deadline for registering an alternative candidate with election authorities is this Friday and party officials abandoned efforts to replace Fillon on the ticket last week.

Fillon started the year as the favourite to be France’s next president but stumbled in mid-January after Le Canard Enchaine newspaper reported that he had employed his wife for years as a parliamentary assistant and that she had done little real work for total pay of almost 1 million euros ($1.1 million). His children had also been paid for work they may not have done, the newspaper has said.

If Fillon was elected president in May, he would be protected by an immunity throughout the five-year term, though his wife Penelope would have no such protection if she was also charged.

The next major date in the campaign is likely to be a televised debate March 20. While generally considered a good debater, Fillon will have to square his calls for cutting government spending and tightening up France’s welfare state with his own actions in putting his family on the public payroll.
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