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France's leading presidential candidate, Fillon, rejects corruption allegations

A French newspaper says Fillon's wife was his paid assistant for over a decade but she never appeared at Parliament. Fillon has branded himself as the clean candidate in the contentious election.

Former French Prime Minister - and the man currently favored to become the country's next president - Francois Fillon hit back against allegations Thursday that his wife had a no-show job for many years during his time in public office.

Responding to allegations that his wife received as much as 600,000 euros ($640,000) to work as a public office assistant from 1998 – 2012, without ever showing up at the parliament building, Fillon, 62, dismissed the allegations out-of-hand.

"My wife has always worked for me, she has always been by my side in my public life," Fillon said. "She corrected my speeches, she received a huge number of people whom I couldn't see, she represented me at demonstrations, she did press reviews for me and she passed on people's requests."

He tweeted tonight that his wife's work was legal, and that they have the documents to prove it

He dismissed the allegations as a mere political ploy, saying it showed "contempt and misogyny", and added: "I see the stink bomb season has started."

Still, the national financial prosecutor has opened an investigation into the allegations, which were made by the Canard Enchaine newspaper.

The paper reports that Fillon's wife, Penelope, received the money between 1998 and 2012, but said it could find no one who recalled her working in the parliament building.

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The clean candidate

Fillon has campaigned as a "clean candidate" unsullied by the legal woes that have beset some of his right-wing rivals. Polls show him defeating far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in the election runoff in May.

Accusations of financial impropriety are nothing new in France, where both the president and prime minister who ruled in the mid-1990s, Jacques Chirac and Alain Juppe, were found guilty of misusing public funds.

They were convicted, Juppe in 2004 and Chirac in 2011 after retiring, of misusing public money to keep political allies on the payroll of Paris City Hall for jobs they did not do.

Reforms aimed at ensuring greater accountability and transparency, including under the tenure of current President Francois Hollande, have been implemented. They include the creation of an independent authority to vet the integrity of financial declarations of ministers.

But nepotism remains legal and widespread in, for instance, the National Assembly, the French parliament.

Rene Dosiere, a parliamentarian who tracks abuses of public money, said 92 members of parliament were known to have family members on the payroll.

As Fillon's lawyer went to the financial prosecutor in an attempt to clear his name on Thursday, his campaign coordinator, Bruno Retailleau, said scandal – which was quickly dubbed "Penelope-gate" - will soon vanish into thin air.

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bik/bw (AFP, Reuters)

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