However, the former prime minister has now slipped behind far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron in the race to become president.
Francois Fillon, 63, faces accusations that he arranged for his wife to be paid public money for work as his parliamentary assistant amid claims that: the work she did was trivial or non-existent; Penelope Fillon had no parliamentary pass; few were aware Penelope Fillon was a member of Francois Fillon’s staff; misleading information was included on timesheets.
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.
In all, Francois Fillon is suspected of diverting public funds, complicity in misappropriating funds, receiving the funds and not declaring assets fully.
There are also questions about a job Penelope Fillon had at a literary magazine owned by a billionaire friend of the couple, for which she allegedly did little or no actual work.
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.
His Republican party has brought forward crisis talks to March 6.
The former prime minister has seen his popularity slip in opinion polls.
Penelope Fillon told the magazine: “If it hadn’t been me, he would have paid someone else to do it, so we decided that it would be me.
“Everything was legal and declared.”
Image source Wikimedia
Penelope Fillon said that she has repeatedly told her husband to “go all the way” but said that the final decision would be down to him.
She urged Francois Fillon’s supporters to get behind him in his presidential campaign and not to give up.
Speaking to supporters in Paris on March 4 as he marked his 63rd birthday, Francois Fillon said that those attacking him over his presidential bid were “trying to kill a desire for change”.
The latest opinion polls suggest that he would be eliminated in the first round of presidential election voting on April 23, with far-right leader Marine Le Pen and liberal Emmanuel Macron likely to progress to contest the election run-off on May 7.
A survey published in Journal du Dimanche suggests that 71% of those polled want Francois Fillon to step down.
In another blow to Francois Fillon’s campaign, his spokesman announced on March 3 that he was quitting.
Thierry Solere’s resignation is one of a slew of notable departures, including the campaign treasurer on March 2.
Francois Fillon’s woes have raised speculation that Alain Juppe, also a former prime minister, could return to the race if he were to pull out.
Alain Juppe was overwhelmingly defeated by Francois Fillon in the Republicans’ primary in November, securing only 33% of the vote to Fillon’s 66%.
Sources close to Alain Juppe said he would be prepared to step in, but only with the unanimous support of the party and only if Francois Fillon were to go voluntarily.
Francois Fillon has so far said he has no intention of stepping down despite the continuing hemorrhage of allies.
Francois Fillon says a judge is placing him under investigation over a fake job scandal – but has vowed to continue his campaign for France presidential election.
For weeks, the center-right presidential candidate has fought allegations that his wife, Penelope, was paid for years for work she did not do.
Francois Fillon called the investigation “a political assassination” against him.
President Francois Hollande criticized his words, and accused him of attacking France’s judicial system.
The president said: “Being a presidential candidate doesn’t authorize you to cast suspicion on the work of police and judges.”
Francois Fillon says he has been summoned to appear before the judge, Serge Tournaire, on March 15.
Image source Wikimedia
The date is just two days before the deadline for candidates to submit their final applications. The first round takes place on April 23, followed by a second-round run-off on May 7.
In a combative speech on March 1 announcing the formal investigation, Francois Fillon called on his supporters to “resist”, saying it was up to voters to decide his fate.
“It’s not just me that is being assassinated, it’s the presidential election. The voices of millions of votes have been muzzled,” he complained.
Francois Fillon said he would respect the summons and tell the judge the truth.
The judge has heard several high-profile cases, including those of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and tycoon Bernard Tapie.
Francois Fillon was selected late last year in national primaries held by the centre-right Republicans that attracted some four million voters.
For a time he was the favorite in the race to succeed Francois Hollande as president – until the fake job allegations emerged.
His appearances have recently been accompanied by loud protests.
He has slipped to third in the polls, behind far-right National Front (FN) leader Marine le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron.
Marine Le Pen also faces allegations that she misused EU funds – a claim she denies.
The allegations circling around the Fillon family focus mainly on his Welsh-born wife Penelope.
Le Canard Enchaine alleged Penelope Fillon was paid €831,400 ($900,000) over several years for working as a parliamentary assistant for her husband and his successor, but had no parliamentary pass – raising questions over whether she did the work she was paid for.
Penelope Fillon was also alleged to have picked up €100,000 for writing a handful of articles for a literary journal.
The family has consistently denied the claims. Initially Francois Fillon said he would stand down as a candidate if his case was placed under formal investigation, but recently he insisted that he would fight on “until victory”.
“The closer we get to the date of the presidential election, the more scandalous it would be to deprive the right and centre of a candidate,” he said.
Penelope Fillon also faces a formal investigation, AFP reports, citing a source close to the investigation.
Francois Fillon has taken back a promise to quit France’s presidential race if placed under formal investigation.
His campaign has been dogged by claims, which he denies, that his wife and two of his children were paid for non-existent parliamentary work.
While an initial investigation is already under way, a decision on a more formal probe has yet to be made.
Francois Fillon told Le Figaro: “I am the candidate and I will continue until victory.
“The closer we get to the date of the election, the more scandalous it would be to deny the Right and the Center of a candidate.”
Image source Wikimedia
The first round of the election will be held on April 23, with the second round run-off between two candidates two weeks later.
On January 26, Francois Fillon had told the TF1 channel that “the only thing that would prevent me from being a candidate is if my honor was tainted, if I was placed under examination”.
While France’s financial prosecutor decided to keep an initial investigation open on February 16, the decision to launch a more formal probe would need to be taken by a magistrate. It could take months or years to reach that point.
Media reports say Francois Fillon’s Welsh-born wife Penelope earned €831,400 ($880,000) as her husband’s parliamentary assistant between 1998 and 2012, and questioned how much work she had done.
It subsequently emerged that Francois Fillon had hired two of his children to act as lawyers, paying them €84,000 between 2005 and 2007 – when they were students.
In early February, Francois Fillon said that although what he had done was legal, French people no longer accepted the practice and that he had made a “mistake”.
The controversy has hit Francois Fillon in the polls, with one new survey by Ifop for three French media outlets on February 17 suggesting he is neck-and-neck with centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron.
However, the poll places both behind the far-right’s Marine Le Pen.
Polls indicate Francois Fillon or Emmanuel Macron would easily beat Marine Le Pen in the second round of the election in May.