French presidential candidate Francois Fillon has apologized to the electorate over a scandal surrounding his employment of his wife. Fillon denied any wrongdoing, however, and has pledged not to stand down.
Francois Fillon defended himself against accusations of embezzlement in a press conference on Monday. "I have worked for my country without ever breaking the law," the conservative presidential candidate said from his campaign headquarters in Paris.
Fillon said that though he had hired his wife and two children, they were paid "perfectly justifiable salaries" for the work they did for him.
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The 62-year-old apologized for what he said was an error of judgment. But he denied accusations that he had misappropriated money, saying he had employed his wife and children because he trusted them.
Fillon said his wife, Penelope, had worked constantly to assist him while he was a member of parliament and that her average monthly salary of 3,700 euros ($4,000) had been fair considering that she had studied law and philosophy.
He reiterated allegations that the press had mischaracterized the situation, saying "it is not for the media to judge me: It is for the French people to judge me." Fillon said he was the victim of a smear campaign and accused news outlets of showing a lack of judgment and balance.
The candidate said he would continue his presidential campaign and not step down. He also promised to publish tables detailing payments made to his wife on Monday night.
From front-runner to accused
French police are currently investigating whether Fillon's family members actually did work for Fillon in exchange for their salaries. The former front-runner in the French presidential election could potentially be charged with embezzlement and misappropriation of funds.
Since a French magazine reported that Fillon paid his wife a total of 830,000 euros ($900,000) over 15 years to work as his assistant, Fillon has dropped dramatically in polls. It was also revealed that Fillon paid two of his children 84,000 euros for assistant work and that his wife was paid close to 100,000 euros to work for an art magazine. The owner of the magazine was later recommended for France's highest honor, the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, by Francois Fillon.
Current forecasts by the French pollster OpinionWay show the independent center-left candidate Emmanuel Macron and Marine LePen of the nationalist-extremist Front National ahead in the presidential race, with 23 and 26 percent of the vote respectively, while Fillon would receive 20 percent of the votes.
The two most successful candidates in the first election in April will face each other in a runoff in May (unless one candidate receives over 50 percent of the vote in the first round - which is seen as highly unlikely).
mb/rt (AFP, AP, Reuters)