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Former French Prime Minister François Fillon And Wife Sentenced To Prison For Embezzlement

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The former French prime minister François Fillon and his Welsh wife, Penelope, were sentenced to jail on Monday, June 29, 2020 for embezzling public funds as part of a “fake jobs” scandal.

A court found the couple guilty of fraud after a trial heard he had paid her and two of the couple’s children about €1m for non-existent jobs as his parliamentary assistants.

In a scathing verdict, the judge said 66-year-old Fillon, who was prime minister under the centre-right president Nicolas Sarkozy, had eroded trust in France’s political class.

The court said Mrs Fillon, 64, was paid “the maximum possible” and that the sums were “out of proportion to her activities”

“Nothing could have justified the remuneration she received,” said Nathalie Gavarino, the leading judge.

Mrs Fillon, née Clarke, from Llanover near Abergavenny, was also found guilty of having a “fake” job at a French-language monthly literary, cultural and political affairs magazine, Revue des Deux Mondes, run by one of her husband’s friends.

The couple, who have five children, were additionally convicted of employing their two eldest, Marie and Charles, in bogus jobs.

The court sentenced Fillon to five years in jail, three of them suspended, and ordered him to pay a €375,000 fine. He was disbarred from public office for 10 years. His wife was given a three-year suspended sentence. Immediately afterwards, the couple, who had denied the accusations, said they would appeal against the verdict.

A third accused, Marc Jouland, who took over Fillon’s constituency as MP in the Assemblée Nationale while he was prime minister and also “employed” Mrs Fillon, was given a three-year suspended sentence and fined €20,000.

In January 2017, Fillon was on a fast track to become France’s next leader in a presidential election in which he was the clear favourite to win.

The scandal that became known as “Penelopegate” erupted when the satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchainé alleged that the veteran centre-right politician had paid his wife and children out of public funds to work as his assistants. This in itself is neither unusual nor illegal in France, where MPs and ministers can employ members of their own family and have them paid for by the state. The question was: exactly what did Mrs Fillon do?

Fillon insisted his wife had been properly and gainfully employed, opening his letters and helping with vital parliamentary work. However, a recording of an interview with Penelope Fillon published 10 years earlier emerged in which she claimed she did “bits and pieces” for her husband but declared: “I have never actually been his assistant or anything like that. I don’t deal with his communication.”

The accusations were especially damaging as Fillon had campaigned as a clean-hands candidate who had never been embroiled in any wrongdoing or put under investigation.

Fillon attempted to outrun the public outrage, as his team cast doubt on the veracity of the interview. He said the confusion had come about because the interview his wife had given in 2007 was in English and the word “assistant” meant something different than in French.

He was forced to abandon his presidential campaign, bringing the centre-right Les Républicains party down with him, and allowing the election of the centrist Emmanuel Macron.

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