Former French prime minister Francois Fillon, whose 2017 bid for the presidency was torpedoed by a fake job scandal involving his wife, is to face trial over the allegations, a judicial source told AFP on Tuesday.
Investigating judges have recommended the rightwinger be tried on charges of misusing public money, misuse of corporate assets, conspiracy and failing to fully disclose his financial assets to a French watchdog.
His Welsh-born wife Penelope faces the lesser charges of complicity in the misuse of public money and conspiring to misuse corporate assets, the legal source said.
“It’s the normal next step in the process,” one of Fillon’s political allies told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Fillon was widely viewed as being on course to win the French presidency before revelations published by the investigative newspaper Le Canard Enchaine in January 2017 shattered his credibility.
His fall from grace opened the way for centrist Emmanuel Macron to win the election and dealt a blow to his conservative Republicans party, one of the mainstays of French political life, from which it is still struggling to recover.
Over several articles, Le Canard Enchaine said it had seen payslips showing that Penelope Fillon had been paid 680,000 euros ($725,000) as a parliamentary assistant to her husband between 1986 and 2013, but had done little or no work at the National Assembly.
She had also been paid a monthly salary by a magazine owned by a billionaire friend of the couple, La Revue des Deux Mondes, despite the editor never having seen her.
Fillon has also admitted taking an interest-free loan of 50,000 euros from the owner of the magazine, Marc Ladreit de Lacharriere, without declaring it to a transparency watchdog.
A lawyer for Fillon, Antonin Levy, told AFP that news about the trial had been leaked to the press before his client had been informed.
“It demonstrates how this investigation has been carried out and we will react to the facts once we have seen the document ourselves,” he added.
Fillon, who had campaigned as a clean pair of hands, has always denied the allegations and accused Le Canard Enchaine, investigators and the government of conspiring with his political rivals who were operating a “secret cell” to bring him down.
As he tried to recover from the parliamentary assistant scandal, he was hit by a series of other revelations, including that a wealthy French-Lebanese lawyer had bought him handmade suits worth 13,000 euros.
The career politician, who served as prime minister under president Nicolas Sarkozy between 2007-2012, ended up finishing third in the first round of voting in April 2017 — behind Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Under France‘s legal system, he can appeal the decision to put him on trial.
Fillon, once the youngest member of parliament at age 27, met Penelope while she was a student at the Sorbonne university in Paris.
They soon married and live in an imposing manor house near Le Mans in northern France where they raised their five children.
A low-key political wife who avoided the limelight, Penelope was known as a keen horse-rider who once described herself as a country “peasant” who preferred the countryside to Paris.
In examining Fillon’s insistence that his wife has “always” worked to help his career, French media homed in on previous comments she made.
Penelope said in several interviews that she had never been involved in her husband’s political career, including to Britain‘s Telegraph newspaper.