French corruption scandals breaking fast and furious

François Fillon the first presidential candidate to be placed under judiciary investigation

 François Fillon leaves his apartment in Paris on Wednesday. His failure to declare a controversial secret loan  is the least of the alleged offences for which he was placed under investigation on Tuesday. Photograph: Yoan Valat/EPA

François Fillon leaves his apartment in Paris on Wednesday. His failure to declare a controversial secret loan is the least of the alleged offences for which he was placed under investigation on Tuesday. Photograph: Yoan Valat/EPA

 

François Fillon, the presidential nominee for the conservative party Les Républicains (LR), sees himself as the political heir of Charles de Gaulle, the founder of the Fifth Republic.

Yet de Gaulle was so scrupulously honest that he insisted on paying for stamps on personal correspondence from the Elysée Palace.

This week, Fillon became the first presidential candidate to be mis en examen or placed under official judiciary investigation for corruption.

Less than six weeks before the first round of the election on April 23rd, the scandals keep coming. On Wednesday, investigative weekly Canard enchaîné revealed that Fillon finally reimbursed a four-year-old, €50,000 interest-free loan from his billionaire benefactor Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière on February 27th.

The reimbursement came five weeks after the Canard reported that Fillon had hired his wife and two of the couple’s children as “parliamentary assistants”, and as investigating magistrates were combing through the candidate’s bank accounts.

Secret loan

Fillon’s failure to declare the secret loan to the high authority for transparency in public life is the least of the alleged offences for which he was placed under investigation on Tuesday. It is punishable by up to three years in prison and a €45,000 fine.

The other charges are: misappropriation of public funds and benefitting from those funds, punishable by 10 years in prison and a €1 million fine; complicity in and benefitting from fraud, which can lead to five years in prison and a €375,000 fine.

It is impossible for Fillon, who is now running third in opinion polls, to be sent to trial before the presidential election. If he wins, he will enjoy presidential immunity for the duration of his term. His wife and children, however, would not benefit from immunity. Penelope Fillon is expected to be mise en examen later this month.

The public funds were those used to pay Penelope, Marie and Charles Fillon. On Tuesday, Le Parisien newspaper reported that Marie and Charles redirected a substantial portion of their “salaries” as assistants to their father when he was a senator to their parents’ bank account, strengthening investigators in their belief that Fillon hired family members as a way of pocketing the allowance for parliamentary assistants.

Fillon this week had the cheek to promise a “code of good conduct” for elected officials if he is elected.

The charge of alleged fraud refers to Ladreit de Lacharrière’s payment of €200,000 to Penelope Fillon as a “literary adviser”. She wrote two short book reviews for his Revue des deux mondes, which once published Balzac and Baudelaire.

As prime minister from 2007 until 2012, Fillon decorated at least three men, including Ladreit, with various ranks in the Légion d’honneur. They would subsequently become lucrative clients for his consulting firm. Judges have not yet decided whether to pursue Fillon for influence-peddling.

Anonymous donor

Scandals involving Fillon are so numerous and fast-breaking that the three investigating magistrates who read charges to him on Tuesday did not have time to consider the €48,500 in bespoke clothes which Fillon received from an anonymous donor over the past five years, as revealed in the Journal du Dimanche (JDD).

The Canard enchaîné now calls Fillon “France’s best-dressed former prime minister”. Arnys, the boutique were the clothes were ordered, has dressed Marcello Mastroianni, Yves Saint-Laurent, François Truffaut and Andy Warhol. The first €35,500 was paid in cash, while the last payment of €13,000 for two suits was paid by cheque on February 20th.

The donor told the JDD he paid for the suits at the request of Fillon, who did not even thank him.

Fillon called the report detailing €2,000 cashmere jumpers and €5,000 jackets “an invasion of privacy” and “a manhunt”. His response was, “So what?”

The scandals have revealed a hitherto unknown side of Fillon. “The problem with Monsieur Fillon is that he loves money,” Front National candidate Marine Le Pen told France Info radio. “And that is very different from the image of austerity he wanted to give.”

Le Pen uses her immunity as an MEP to evade a judge’s summons for allegedly using EU funds to pay her personal assistant and bodyguard. Two of Le Pen’s close financial advisers with past roots in the radical extreme right-wing GUD are under investigation for illegally financing FN campaigns. And revenue authorities believe Le Pen underestimated the value of properties she owns.

The anti-corruption group Anticor has also challenged Emmanuel Macron’s declaration to the high authority for transparency in public life. Anticor says the independent centrist candidate’s pre-tax gross income of €3.3 million between 2009 and 2014 is incompatible with his declared net wealth of €200,000.

If widespread disillusionment on the part of voters leads to high abstention, Le Pen will benefit because her core electorate are more loyal than other candidates’ supporters.

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