Ex-French PM and British wife LOSE bid to overturn fraud convictions

Ex-French PM Francois Fillon and his British wife LOSE bid to overturn fraud convictions after court found they created fake jobs that paid her nearly £1million in public cash

  • The ‘Penelopegate’ scandal torpedoed the political career of Francois Fillon
  • Media reports cleared a path for then relatively unknown Emmanuel Macron
  • Mr Fillon angrily denied claims he provided fake parliamentary assistant role
  • But he and his wife Penelope were both convicted of embezzlement in 2020
  • They failed to have convictions overturned today, but had prison terms reduced 

Ex-French Prime Minister Francois Fillon and his British wife have lost a bid to overturn their fraud convictions after a court found they created a fake parliamentary job that paid Penelope Fillon nearly £1million in public cash.

The ‘Penelopegate’ scandal, revealed in a media report while Mr Fillon was the front-runner in the 2017 presidential race, torpedoed his political career and cleared a path for then relatively unknown Emmanuel Macron to win the race.

Mr Fillon, a hard-nosed fiscal conservative, angrily denied claims he provided a fake parliamentary assistant job to his wife.

He instead insisted she had done genuine constituency work while he was an MP for the western Sarthe department.

But prosecutors insisted there was scant record of any actual work and noted she had rarely joined her husband at the lower-house National Assembly, which was a civil plaintiff in the case.

He was sentenced to five years imprisonment, with three suspended, after being found guilty in 2020.

That sentence was today changed to four years’ imprisonment, three suspended, following an appeal. 

Former France’s Prime Minister Francois Fillon and his wife Penelope arriving at the Paris’ courthouse on November 15 last year

The couple pictured before having dinner at the Elysee Palace, Paris, in June 2008

Mr Fillon has served no time in prison to date as his sentence was not enforced while his appeal was pending, but he is unlikely to spend any time behind bars in a country where short sentences for white collar crimes are often commuted to detention at home with an electronic tag.

Penelope has now been handed a two-year suspended prison sentence for embezzlement and complicity in the misuse of public funds, down from three years suspended.

However, the court has maintained fines of 375,000 euros for each of them. 

They were also ordered to repay €800,000 to the National Assembly, which reimbursed Penelope for the job as Fillon’s assistant.

The couple was not in court for the verdict, and their defence team said they would lodge a further appeal with France’s supreme court.

Mr Fillon’s lawyers said: ‘The court did not draw the conclusions of its own findings with regards to the evidence demonstrating the reality of Mrs Fillon’s work.’

They said that besides procedural issues, there were also major questions about the separation of powers in the case between judiciary, government and parliament.

Lawyer Antonin Levy added: ‘We are not saying that we suspect earlier rulings were politically motivated, but it takes strength from an appeals court to overrule a lower court.

Fillon (right) was a front-runner in the 2017 French election as a party candidate for Les Republicains’, but Penelopegate torpedoed his campaign

Fillon pictured arriving at the Paris’ Courthouse in Paris in February 2020 ahead of his trial for embezzlement

‘Earlier rulings were so serious that they impacted French political life. That is what we hope the Cour de Cassation will consider.’

When the scandal broke, Fillon denounced what he called a campaign of dirty tricks and denied having done anything illegal, though he later acknowledged making an error of judgment.

But at the earlier November appeals hearings, prosecutors said there was clear evidence that Fillon and his stand-in as MP for the Sarthe department, Marc Joulaud, employed Fillon’s wife Penelope in an ‘intangible’ or ‘tenuous’ role as a parliamentary assistant between 1998 and 2013.

The court also today upheld the original three-year suspended sentence for Joulaud.

Fillon, now 68, was widely tipped to win the 2017 presidency race when the Canard Enchaine newspaper reported that Penelope had been his parliamentary assistant for 15 years – earning some one million euros over the period. 

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