Every presidential campaign has its share of iconic, career-changing moments, whether they’re stunning, instant game-changers, or incidents that seem decisive only in hindsight. With French voters set to elect a president in April after another unusual race, FRANCE 24 looks back at some of the key moments from past campaigns. In the spotlight: March 14, 2017, the day conservative François Fillon was formally investigated for a “fake jobs” scandal.
With just 40 days to go until the first round of France’s 2017 presidential election, François Fillon’s nightmarish career took a new turn when a judge placed the conservative Les Républicains candidate under formal investigation over allegations that he had arranged for his wife was paid handsomely for work she never did.
A former prime minister who from the start presented himself as a model of probability on the campaign trail, Fillon had been dogged by mounting accusations for weeks. Authorities opened a preliminary investigation in January into alleged wrongdoing after the satirical investigative weekly “Le Canard Enchaîné” published claims that Fillon’s British wife, Penelope, had received €500,000 in taxpayer funds over several years. disbursed from the package that was assigned to her legislator husband. to pay her support staff. The scandal would come to be known as “Penelopegate”.
Those initial revelations were just the beginning, as a drumbeat of new accusations followed, pushing Fillon, once the favorite in a race he was considered likely to lose, out of step. In March, French media reported that Penelope had pocketed €1 million for serving (or rather, not serving) as her parliamentary assistant, adding accusations against two of the couple’s children for her work as a parliamentary assistant.
Outside the financial prosecutor’s office on that fateful day, FRANCE 24’s James André reported that the new development was “a great embarrassment for the candidate, who had presented himself as the candidate of transparency.”
In fact, Fillon had been stumped about cutting what he considered wasteful public spending and promised to cut red tape by cutting 500,000 civil servant positions if elected.
In addition, Fillon “made many speeches early in the campaign saying that he had absolutely no legal problems, that the people who were serving the Republic should be exemplary. He also said, ‘Can anyone imagine General de Gaulle under formal investigation? ?’ good now [Fillon] is,” André reported that day.
Still, the candidate, who denied any wrongdoing, stopped promising to resign if he was placed under formal investigation.
“For the last two or three weeks, he has been saying that he is the victim of a plot, that this was ‘a political assassination,’ and that he would come to the bitter end of this campaign,” André reported.
Continuing the fight for the presidency seemed dangerous. But the fact that it was so late in the game was a double-edged sword for Les Républicains. The Conservative Party, it seemed, was doomed if it did, and doomed if it didn’t stick with the candidate who had won the November primary.
“It’s like climbing the Himalayas without oxygen because for the next 40 days this accusation will drag you down, depriving your campaign of political oxygen,” political scientist Philippe Breton told FRANCE 24 at the time.
In the end, Fillon managed to get his candidacy to a sort of finish line, the first round on April 23, and maintained a solid base of conservative support under the circumstances with 20 percent of the vote. But that was only good for third place, 450,000 votes short of the mark, with the two places in the May 7 runoff going to Emmanuel Macron and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen.
Epilogue: The trial, the appeal and… the assault on the Ukraine
Fillon faded from public life, officially resigning from politics in November 2017.
He and his wife were eventually tried in the bogus jobs case. In June 2020, a French court found François Fillon guilty of embezzlement of public funds and sentenced him to five years in prison, three of which were suspended. The court ordered the disgraced politician to pay 375,000 euros in fines and barred him from running for any public office for a decade. Meanwhile, Penelope Fillon was found guilty of complexity to embezzle and hide public funds: she was given a three-year suspended prison sentence and €375,000 was also found on her.
The authorities did not pursue a case against the Fillon children after the investigating judges decided that they “most likely were not fully aware that they were profiting from bogus work”. The judges noted that the children’s wages received “simply transited through their bank accounts” before returning to their father’s, almost entirely.
The couple’s appeal of the ruling was made known in November 2021 and the former presidential candidate remains free pending that verdict, which is scheduled to be delivered on May 9.
While the former prime minister has largely kept a low profile, Fillon recently drew some unwanted attention during the 2022 presidential race. After leaving politics, he joined a Paris investment firm, started a business consultancy and Controversially, he joined the boards of Russian state oil company Zarubezhneft in June 2021 and Russian petrochemical firm Sibur in December.
Hours after Russia invaded in the early hours of February 24, Fillon tweeted his condemnation of the “use of force in Ukraine.” However, his missive on social media was heavily criticized for what he followed up: “But for 10 years, I have been warning against Western refusal to heed Russian demands on NATO expansion.” hey i wrote. “That attitude has led to a dangerous confrontation today that could have been avoided.”
Fillon’s awkward position, and his initial response to the Russian invasion, quickly became cumbersome for Valérie Pécresse, his hard-pressed successor as Les Républicains presidential candidate, despite her strong lack of sympathy for the Kremlin during the election campaign. . On February 25, Fillon announced that she would be leaving her position in Russia.
“Today, the war has returned to the heart of Europe. It is a collective failure but, in the hierarchy of responsibilities, Vladimir Putin is the only one to blame for unleashing a conflict that could – should – have been avoided,” he wrote in the weekly “Journal du Dimanche”. “Under these conditions, I cannot continue to participate in the directories of the Russian firms Zarubezhneft and Sibur.”