France’s ex-PM François Fillon has appeared in court for his role in a “fake jobs” scandal.
The politician is accused of paying his Welsh wife Penelope Fillon hundreds of thousands of euros for work she allegedly never did when employed as his assistant.
Both appeared on February 24, but made no statement. They deny the allegations.
Though the trial was due to start on February 24, the court delayed it until February 26, as there is currently a lawyers’ strike in France.
The scandal – dubbed PenelopeGate – began in 2017, when Francois Fillon seemed favorite to win the presidency.
His ratings plummeted after the allegations. Centrist Emmanuel Macron eventually won the election against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.
Francois Fillon could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted. The trial is scheduled to run until March 11.
The former prime minister has been in politics for decades. After serving as lawmaker and in a number of ministerial roles, he became France’s prime minister between 2007 and 2012 under former President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Ahead of the 2017 presidential election, Francois Fillon won the center-right Republican party’s presidential primary, and in January 2017 was the clear frontrunner in the polls.
However, Fillon’s bid for the top job fell apart later that month.
Le Canard Enchaîné, a satirical magazine, alleged that Penelope Fillon – formally employed as her husband’s parliamentary assistant for about six years in the 1990s and 2000s – never actually did her job. What’s more, she was paid €831,400 ($900,000) in the role.
Francois Fillon denied the allegations. He said his opponents were trying to sabotage his campaign through his wife, and vowed to press on with the election.
As the scandal grew the former prime minister apologized “profusely” for employing family members, saying that though legal the practice had caused “mistrust”.
However, his poll ratings dropped sharply. He came third in the first round of voting, missing out on the second-round run-off.
Le Canard Enchaîné published numerous allegations against Francois Fillon and his family.
According to the publication, Penelope Fillon made €100,000 writing just a handful of articles for a literary publication La Revue des Deux Mondes. The magazine is owned by a billionaire friend of the family, Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière.
From 2002 to 2007, Penelope Fillon worked for her husband’s successor as a lamaker, Marc Joulaud. He has also been placed under formal investigation.
During a brief stint working for her husband between 2012 and 2013, Penelope Fillon allegedly did not have a work email or parliamentary pass.
Two of the Fillons children have also been caught up in the scandal.
Marie and Charles Fillon were both paid for legal work by their father’s office – yet Le Canard Enchaîné reported that neither were qualified lawyers at the time.