French court finds ex-Prime Minister Francois Fillon guilty of fraud

A French court on Monday found former premier Francois Fillon guilty of charges of creating a fake job for his wife, using taxpayer money.

Fillon, 66, was accused of creating a position that paid his wife over €1 million ($1.13 million) in public funds — a charge that cost him his 2017 presidential bid. Fillon's wife, Penelope, was also found guilty of being complicit in the case.

Read more: France's ex-premier Francois Fillon to face trial over fake jobs

Prosecutors initially demanded a five-year sentence for Fillon and a €375,000 fine. His wife could face a three-year suspended sentence.

A scandalous article

Fillon's 2017 presidential campaign took a nosedive when satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine reported that he had paid his wife, Penelope, for serving as his parliamentary assistant from 1998 until 2013.

The public outcry over the scandal, which became known as "Penelopegate," was loud enough that significant doubts were voiced about the eligibility of Fillon himself — leading to a sharp decline in the opinon polls.

Read more:French presidential candidate Fillon battles on despite formal corruption charges

The paper also reported that he had employed two of his five children as parliamentary assistants while he was senator, between 2005 and 2007, paying them a combined €117,000. However, there was no evidence that either the wife or children did any work.

He was additionally accused of getting the millionaire owner of a literary magazine to pay his wife €135,000 for "consulting work."

Pleading innocence

Welsh-born Penelope Fillon told the court she spent a lot of time sorting her husband's mail, attending public events near their rural manor and gathering information for his speeches. However, she was quoted in a 2016 newspaper interview as saying, "Until now, I have never gotten involved in my husband's political life."

She also said that she didn't remember well the contracts that she had had as a parliamentary aid.

Fillon, who served as prime minister under former president Nicolas Sarkozy from 2007 to 2012, has consistently insisted on his innocence.

lc/rt (AFP, Reuters)