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France's Fillon urges financial prosecutor to drop 'illegal' fake work inquiry

Attorneys for the French politician have hit out at financial prosecutors investigating payments made to his wife. Fillon's lawyer has said the prosecutor is "not competent" to investigate the matter.

Lawyers for French conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon on Thursday urged financial prosecutors to drop their investigation into allegations his wife was paid for a supposed fake job.

"The financial prosecutor has no jurisdiction and its inquiry is, therefore, illegal," Fillon's lawyer, Antonin Levy, told reporters, arguing that the candidate should be allowed to enjoy discretionary use of funds available to him as an elected lawmaker.

The probe "completely tramples democratic principles" and deals a "serious blow to the principle of the separation of powers," Levy said.

'Penelopegate'

Initially considered a frontrunner for the French presidency, Fillon has been fighting to rescue his campaign, following accusations of embezzlement.

His wife, Penelope Fillon, had received 830,000 euros ($900,000) in public money for her work as his parliamentary assistant over 15 years. However, last month, the satirical "Canard Enchaine" newspaper alleged his wife never carried out any work in the role.

Fillon also employed his two oldest children , supposedly for their legal expertise, although both were still in law school at the time. Those reports only fuelled allegations that he used such "fake jobs" to enrich his family.

While having repeatedly denied the allegations, Fillon has seen his approval ratings plummet. Opinion polls show him trailing behind the Front National's Marine Le Pen and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, making it unlikely for him to reach the presidential election run-off in May. 

Fillon's attorneys also criticized the media for publishing leaked details of the investigation, saying the reports will likely have an impact on the vote.  

"The financial prosecutor's office has a responsibility," Levy said. "It's important that voters don't have their election stolen in April." 

Watch video 02:17

Fillon's chances wane in presidential bid

dm/sms (AFP, AP)

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