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French election

French police search parliamentary offices as part of Fillon probe

Investigators have carried out searches in the lower house of parliament as part of a probe into allegations that presidential candidate Francois Fillon's wife had a 'fake job.' Marine Le Pen is also under pressure.

Fillon's team for the presidential elections starting in April said Tuesday the former premier was working to provide "elements" to clarify his wife's discreet but "real" role.

Fillon's lawyer Antonin Levy said investigators would be sent more evidence in the coming days to prove that Penelope Fillon's work had been "real" and "very important."

He told BFMTV: "Working as a parliamentary assistant is not just writing up notes … and summaries, it is also sometimes less tangible, less concrete but as real."

Fillon, who claims he and his wife are victims of a smear campaign, said in a statement Tuesday they "were able to provide elements useful for establishing the truth."

Fillon campaign team member, Patrick Stefanini, said the conservative Republican party candidate did not want the probe to "interfere with the democratic process."

On Monday, Fillon and his wife Penelope were questioned by police over a claim by "Le Canard Enchaine" newspaper that she was paid about 500,000 euros ($537,000) from state funds for work she did not perform.

Another scandal

Presidential candidate for the Green party Yannick Jadot on Monday demanded that Fillon respond to rumors about any Russian clients his consultancy 2F Conseil may have had.

Fillon's campaign director Bruno Retailleau told BFMTV television that Fillion's consultancy, formed in 2012 after his term as premier, did not have clients in Russia such as President Vladimir Putin.

According to the French newspaper, Fillon acquired jobs for his Welsh-born wife and two of his children that paid nearly one million euros ($1.1 million).

His children received 84,000 euros each as parliamtary assistants, while his wife earned 900,000 euros as a parliamentary aide and at a literary reviewed owned by a friend.

More than 75 percent of French voters surveyed by Elabe for French broadcaster BFM TV said they did not find Fillon's defense convincing.

Political effects

Fillon has said that if charges were pressed, he would withdraw from the campaign. A spokeswoman for the conservative Republicans said, in that case, they would have only two weeks to organize a new primary ahead of a March 22 deadline for all candidates to officially register for the French poll.

A Kantor-Sofres survey published Sunday showed that independent centrist Emmanuel Macron had drawn level with Fillon for the first round of the presidential election scheduled for April 23.

Opinion polls indicate that in the first round in April, the victor would be Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front (FN). Her party is due to unveil its political platform at the weekend.

Le Pen is under pressure to account for her use of EU funds. She has refused to repay nearly 300,000 euros ($323,000) which an investigation has concluded she used to pay FN party staff during the 2011-12 legislature, instead of paying assistants working for her as a member of the European Parliament, as is set out in the rules. 

EU authorities gave Le Pen a midnight deadline to return the money. Otherwise, from Wednesday around 7,000 euros a month will be taken from her EU payments. 

ipj/jm (Reuters, dpa, AP, AFP)

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