France’s Fillon Stays In Presidential Race Despite Deepening Legal Probe

PARIS (Reuters) -
Francois Fillon, former French prime minister and member of Les Republicains political party and presidential candidate of the French center-right in next year’s election. (Reuters/Christian Hartmann)

Conservative French presidential candidate Francois Fillon vowed to stay in the presidential race on Wednesday despite a magistrate’s intention to place him under formal investigation for alleged misuse of public funds.

His statement at his campaign headquarters came after a morning of speculation that he was about to withdraw following his decision to postpone a campaign visit to the Paris farm show.

It came as opinion polls continued to show he would lose the election. The polls show independent centrist Emmanuel Macron consolidating his status as favorite, and put far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen also among the leading candidates.

Fillon’s campaign has been dogged since late January by an official investigation into alleged misuse of taxpayers’ money involving hundreds of thousands of euros paid to his wife and family. He had been favorite to win until the affair began.

He has denied wrongdoing along with the allegations by a satirical newspaper that his wife did little work for her salary as a parliamentary assistant and in other roles.

On Wednesday, he revealed that investigating magistrates appointed last week to the case planned to put him under formal investigation, and had summoned him to appear before them on March 15.

He denounced the process as a “political assassination,” but said he would cooperate with it and appear before the judges as requested.

“I won’t give in, I won’t surrender, I won’t pull out, I’ll fight to the end,” Fillon said.