September 3, 2021
PARIS (Reuters) – Former French prime minister Francois Fillon, who is appealing a five-year jail sentence for embezzling public funds, is under investigation again by financial prosecutors over payments to an assistant, his lawyer said on Friday.
Lawyer Antonin Levy accused the National Financial Prosecutor’s (PNF) office of a witch hunt and said Fillon, who served as premier under Nicolas Sarkozy from 2007-2012, had committed no wrongdoing.
The PNF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
French media reported prosecutors were probing whether Fillon, when he returned to being a parliamentarian after serving as prime minister, broke the law by paying an assistant who helped the conservative politician write a book published in 2015 with public funds.
“We’re not talking about a novel, nor a fiction. We’re talking about a book that expresses the political vision of a lawmaker,” Levy told BFM television.
“If a politician cannot write a political book, what’s the point of being a lawmaker,” he added.
It is against French law to use public funds to pay an individual for private gain.
A court in 2020 found Fillon guilty of a scam that saw him pay his wife about 1 million euros over a period of years for minimal work as his parliamentary assistant.
The scandal upended Fillon’s 2017 run for president.
Fillon and his wife, who received a suspended jail sentence, are appealing against the convictions. He remains free while the appeal process is under way.
“This investigation dates from 2017, the same time as the original probe. They kept this element aside to serve it up just at the time of the appeal to sully further his name, to discredit him further,” Levy said.
The latest allegations could cast a pall over the centre-right’s campaign for the 2021 presidential election, at a time it is struggling to agree on a single candidate for the ticket.
(Reporting by Richard Lough; Additional reporting by Benoit van Overstraeten; Editing by Alison Williams)
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