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Scandal-plagued Fillon accuses Hollande of conspiring against him

Conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon has accused the French socialist government and president of leaking his financial affairs to the press. Fillon has been formally charged with embezzling public funds.

Beleaguered French presidential candidate Francois Fillon on Thursday accused the country's socialist government of conspiring to sabotage his campaign by spreading damaging leaks about his financial affairs. The conservative nominee alleged that French President Francois Hollande was behind the plot.

"You have newspapers today that receive documents 48 hours after they were seized in searches, for example from my office in the National Assembly," Fillon said in an interview with the French broadcaster "France 2."

"Who gives them these documents? The government," the conservative candidate said. When pressed whether he believed politicians or the judicial system approved the leaks, Fillon said:  "I will go much further. I blame the president of the republic."

Hollande 'condemns' allegations

Hollande's office was quick to refute the remarks, saying the French President condemned "with the greatest firmness the false allegations of Fillon."

Since Hollande's election in 2012, "the executive has never intervened in any judicial procedure and has always strictly respected the independence of the judiciary," the president's office said in a statement. "Regarding the serious allegations facing Mr Fillon, because they concern his integrity and exemplarity, the President of the Republic only heard of the charges through the press."

Fillon fighting to salvage campaign
Judges formally charged Fillon last week for embezzling public funds in what has been part of an ongoing investigation into accusations he paid his wife 830,000 euros ($894,000) over 15 years for government work that she never carried out. The Les Republicains party has repeatedly protested his innocence.

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However, that investigation only widened last week when it was revealed that he had received made-to-measure luxury suits worth around 13,000 euros as gifts from a well-known attorney. Fillon admitted he had made a mistake in accepting the suits and said he had returned them.

During Thursday's interview, Fillon said that the image of him being painted oftentimes made him think back to Pierre Beregovoy, a former French Prime Minister under President Francois Mitterrand who committed suicide in 1993. Fillon said he "understood why you could be led to this extreme."

Fillon had been considered a clear frontrunner and on course to win the presidency before the allegations of corruption and embezzlement were published in January by the French weekly "Le Canard Enchaine." Since then, his popularity has plummeted. Polls show that he is likely to be eliminated in the first round of the presidential election on April 23, with independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and the far-right's Marine Le Pen poised to make it through to the final runoff ballot on May 7.

dm/jr (AFP, Reuters)

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