Ex-French prime minister denies wrongdoing in fraud trial


France’s former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, left, and his wife Penelope, arrive at the Paris courthouse, in Paris, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. He could have been president of France. Instead, former Prime Minister Francois Fillon is going on trial to face fraud charges after he used public funds to richly pay his wife and children for work they allegedly never performed. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

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PARIS (AP) — Former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Thursday that he wants to “make the truth be known” at his fraud trial in Paris. Fillon is facing charges after he used public funds to pay his wife and children for work they allegedly never performed.

Fillon, 65, has denied wrongdoing.

In his first statement to the court, Fillon said he had already been sentenced by the “media court.”

“The goal was clear: To prevent me from running in normal conditions in the presidential election,” Fillon said. “Damages are irreparable.”

French media broke the scandal in January 2017, just three months before a presidential election in which Fillon was considered the front-runner.

The revelations crushed his campaign. He was eliminated from the race after finishing third in the first round, behind centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine le Pen.

Fillon is suspected of having given jobs as parliamentary aides, involving no sustained work, to his wife and two of their children from 1998 to 2013. Altogether, the aide work brought the family more than 1 million euros ($1.08 million).

Fillon explained his lack of documentation proving the work done by his wife by saying that he kept no archives of his parliamentary work in his electoral district, in the rural Sarthe region in western France.

Welsh-born Penelope Fillon has always kept a low profile. She told the court that her mission consisted mostly in handling her husband’s mail, helping him prepare events and speeches, and providing information on local issues. She said she never worked at the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, to where her husband was first elected in 1981.

Asked about her well-paid job, she said repeatedly that her husband was in charge of taking those types of decisions. She said she didn’t remember well the successive contracts she had as a parliamentary aid.

Francois Fillon insisted that, according to the principle of separation of powers, the justice system cannot interfere with a lawmaker’s choices and how he organizes work at his office.

Fillon served as prime minister under president Nicolas Sarkozy from 2007 to 2012.

The trial is scheduled to last until March 11. If convicted, Fillon and his wife face up to ten years in prison and a fine of 150,000 euros.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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