French ex-Prime Minister François Fillon and his Welsh wife have received jail sentences in a fake jobs case.
The conservative politician was found guilty of paying Penelope Fillon €1.156m (£1.06m, $1.3m) for work she never did as a parliamentary aide.
He was sentenced to five years in prison, three of them suspended. She was given a three-year suspended term.
The scandal ruined his presidential bid in 2017. Both have appealed, blocking Fillon’s immediate detention.
The 66-year-old is the most senior French political figure to receive a custodial sentence since the start of the Fifth Republic in 1958.
Coronavirus masks obscured the couple’s expressions as the verdicts were read out.
What happened in court?
Delivering the decision in a Paris courthouse, the presiding judge said: “The payment was disproportionate to the work done. Mrs Fillon was hired for a position that was without use.”
She was found guilty of complicity to embezzle and conceal public funds.
Both were given fines of €375,000 ($423,000). In addition, the couple were ordered to return more than €1m to the National Assembly, which employed Penelope Fillon from 1998 to 2013.
Her husband was also banned from public office for 10 years.
The terms matched the prosecutors’ sentence requests.
Fillon vows to fight on
François and Penelope Fillon’s lawyers insist that the battle is far from lost, and that the appeal will be a new and fairer trial.
They have two big arguments. First that a court of law has no place determining what actually constitutes work on behalf of a politician. You or I might find it venal an MP paying his wife to do what she would probably do anyway for free – but that does not mean it is illegal.
And second – that once told, the full story behind the former PM’s downfall will show the case in a different light. The Fillon team has been encouraged by claims from the former chief financial prosecutor that she was “pressured” into speeding up investigations into him in early 2017.
It supports their view that the whole affair was orchestrated to do the maximum possible damage. Even if that were proven, though, it would not necessarily affect the legal case against the Fillons. And that – for now – is very damning indeed.
Who is François Fillon?
He has been in politics for decades. After serving as an MP, senator, and in a number of ministerial roles, he became France’s prime minister between 2007 and 2012 under then-President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Ahead of the 2017 presidential election, he won the centre-right Republican party’s presidential primary, and in January 2017 was the clear front-runner in the polls.
But his bid for the top job fell apart later that month.
Le Canard Enchaîné, a satirical magazine, alleged that his wife – formally employed as his parliamentary assistant for about six years in the 1990s and 2000s – never actually did her job. What is more, she was paid €831,400 in the role.
He denied the allegations. He said his opponents were trying to sabotage his campaign, and vowed to press on with the election.
As the scandal grew he apologised “profusely” for employing family members, saying that though legal the practice had caused “mistrust”.
But his poll ratings dropped sharply. He came third in the first round of voting, missing out on the second-round run-off.
What is PenelopeGate?
Le Canard Enchaîné published numerous allegations against the couple.
The magazine revealed that Penelope Fillon had 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. In her ruling, the judge described that payment as an illegal gift.
From 2002-2007, Penelope Fillon worked for her husband’s successor as MP, Marc Joulaud. He too was convicted of paying her for little or no work and has been given a three-year suspended sentence.
Other French politicians who have been convicted include late President Jacques Chirac, who in 2011 received a suspended sentence over malpractice when he was mayor of Paris.
His one-time Prime Minister, Alain Juppé, also got a suspended sentence in a related case in 2004.
In the mid-1990s, businessman and former Socialist minister Bernard Tapie served an eight-month jail term over a football match-fixing scandal.
Chirac’s successor, Nicolas Sarkozy, is currently facing two trials, for alleged corruption and illicit campaign funding.
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