Until recently, he was the favorite to win the elections in April and May.
However, the former prime minister has now slipped behind far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron.
Image source Wikimedia
On March 14, Francois Fillon, 63, was personally placed under formal investigation over suspicions that he arranged for his wife Penelope to be paid public money for work as his parliamentary assistant which she did not actually carry out.
Francois Fillon is also being investigated over payments to his two children Marie and Charles when he was a senator. He has said his children were paid as lawyers, for specific tasks. But neither was a qualified lawyer at the time.
A magistrate had already been investigating the case, but until now the inquiry did not mention directly Francois Fillon.
The embarrassment is acute because this is the same Francois Fillon who before the campaign said it would be inconceivable for someone to remain as a candidate if placed in this legal situation, our correspondent adds.
In a separate development on March 14, French media report that Marine Le Pen is now suspected by the country’s tax authorities of undervaluing her share of two properties jointly owned with her father Jean Marie Le Pen.
Marine Le Pen has made no public comment on the issue.
However, key members of his campaign team have abandoned him and several leading Republicans have wavered in their support.
Alain Juppe, like Francois Fillon a former prime minister, did not hold back against any of the leading candidates on March 6.
However, he reserved his angriest comments for Francois Fillon, whose talk of a plot, and criticism of judges and the media, “has led him into a dead-end”.
“What a waste,” he said.
The pressure on Francois Fillon is likely to grow next week, when he is due to appear before a judge to be placed under formal investigation for embezzlement.
In the short-term, Francois Fillon’s party will hold a unity summit on March 6, a meeting he has been urged to attend.
His drop in favorability and Alain Juppe’s decision look like clearing the way for the young centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron to battle it out against Marine Le Pen in the second round. Polls give him a clear edge over the National Front candidate.
A big question mark now hangs over former President Nicolas Sarkozy. Defeated in the first Republican primary by Alain Juppe and Francois Fillon, he had called for an emergency meeting between the three of them.