France Bans Hiring of Spouses by Politicians


Paris, London- French politicians will no longer be allowed to employ their spouses or children as parliamentary assistants under rules adopted in response to a scandal involving former prime Minister Francois Fillon and his wife.

The law, one of the first to be approved since President Emmanuel Macron’s election in May, will apply to ministers and members of parliament, bringing France into line with countries like Germany and ending what is a widespread family business, Reuters reported.

The essential clauses of the legislation were voted through by members of the National Assembly.

Macron, a 39-year-old centrist, won the presidential contest promising he would end practices blamed for widespread voter distrust of politicians.

Fillon was one of Macron’s hottest competitors whose campaign was destroyed by a scandal involving payments to his British spouse.

Roughly one in six members of parliament has a family member drawing a salary as an assistant.

Le Pen Deliberately Lifts Part of Fillon Speech to Win over Conservatives


French Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen made a bold move during a recent speech when she lifted verbatim part of another delivered by former candidate Francois Fillon.

The far-right candidate lifted parts of a speech by the former prime minister in what her critics called plagiarism and she said was a deliberate “wink” to him to woo his conservative voters in France’s presidential runoff Sunday.

The stolen words and casual reaction by Le Pen and her team marked the latest shocking development in a French presidential campaign like no other. Perhaps more surprisingly, there was little sign it would seriously damage Le Pen.

Polls consider her centrist rival Emmanuel Macron the front-runner in the vote, seen as a test of global populism and decisive moment for the European Union.

Le Pen borrowed from a speech delivered last month by Fillon, the former Republicans party candidate, about France’s important role in Europe and the world.

The subject is at the heart of Le Pen’s campaign. She promises to restore French glory, pull France out of the EU and return to the franc currency. She has denounced the effects of globalization on the French economy and culture.

Speaking April 15, Fillon described France as a force reaching out on multiple fronts:

“The English Channel and the North Sea opening onto the Anglo-Saxon world and to the immense northern spaces. … The Atlantic, which has opened us for centuries onto the great sea and brings us adventures. The Mediterranean, the cradle of some of history’s oldest and richest civilizations. … The Pyrenees, first of all, engaging France with that immense Hispanic and Latin universe. The Alps border, with Italy our sister and beyond that central Europe, the Balkans and eastern Europe. … France is something more and much more than an economic, agricultural or military power.”

Le Pen, speaking Monday at a Paris region campaign rally, said:

“The English Channel and the North Sea opening onto the Anglo-Saxon world and to the immense northern spaces. The Mediterranean, the cradle of the oldest and richest civilizations. The Pyrenees, first of all, engaging France with that immense Hispanic and Latin universe. The Alps border, with Italy our sister and beyond that central Europe, the Balkans and eastern Europe. … France is something more and much more than an economic, agricultural or military power.”

Like three of her aides earlier in the day, Le Pen used the word “wink” to describe the extracts copied word for word from Fillon. At no point in the speech did she cite Fillon or acknowledge the source.

“I totally own this wink,” she said in a Tuesday night interview with French broadcaster TF1 news.

Le Pen added that her far-right National Front party and Fillon’s conservative voters share “the same vision of France, of its greatness, of the role it should have in the world.”

Fillon and his aides have not commented on Le Pen’s move, which puts his Republicans party in an awkward spot. However the website that revealed the copied text, Ridicule TV, is reported to be run by Fillon supporters.

Polls suggest that as many as a third of Fillon’s voters will choose Le Pen in the second round — but Fillon himself, immediately after being eliminated in the first-round vote April 23, urged voters to keep the long-pariah National Front out of power and vote instead for Macron.

A writer well-known in ultraconservative circles, Paul-Marie Couteaux, claimed credit for the passage used by both Le Pen and Fillon.

Couteaux expressed hope it would encourage right-wing voters to unite under a single banner. He tweeted Tuesday that the passage was borrowed from his 1997 book “Europe toward War.”

Couteaux has past links to both Fillon’s campaign and Le Pen, according to French media reports.

Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, her centrist rival in Sunday’s runoff election, have their only televised debate on Wednesday. Both are going after supporters of Fillon and the nine other candidates knocked out in the first round. France’s two main parties failed to make it to the second round for the first time in the country’s modern history.

Meanwhile, a senior FN official said on Wednesday that Le Pen would try to change France’s electoral law by referendum if she wins the presidency and her National Front fails to win a parliamentary majority in June.

She would then call new elections under the new rules. France holds parliamentary elections on June 11 and 18.

“If the new Assembly is hostile to us, we would change the electoral law via a referendum organized as soon as next summer, then the president would dissolve the National Assembly,” Gilles Lebreton, the FN official told Le Canard Enchaine newspaper.

French Presidential Candidates Hold Final Debate ahead of Sunday Polls


Paris – The eleven candidates running in the French presidential elections held a final televised debate on Thursday night ahead of the first round of the polls that will take place on Sunday.

Each of the candidates was given 15 minutes to address the French people in their final media appearance ahead of the elections.

According to the latest opinion polls, centrist Emmanuel Macrn, the far-right’s Marine Le Pen, the right’s Francois Fillon and far-left Jean-Luc Melenchon are the closest to making it to the second round. Macron and Le Pen are leading the polls and only two candidates will make it to the final round of elections on May 7.

Chloe Morin, director of the Observatory of Public Opinion, told AFP that the final three days before Sunday’s elections will give the estimated 10 million undecided voters time to make up their minds on a candidate.

Each presidential hopeful has therefore sought to distinguish himself during the final hours of campaigning.

Le Pen has raised the tone of her party’s traditional rhetoric, especially her anti-immigration and Europe stance, and focused on security issues.

Macron meanwhile took advantage of Monday’s thwarted “imminent” attack in France to portray himself as the only candidate who can “guarantee” the security of the French people. He has enjoyed the backing of Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who recently joined his electoral camp.

Fillon has focused on clearing his image after he was struck by scandals that have revolved around his family. The former prime minister reiterated in the final days of campaigning that he will advance to the runoff vote. He has enjoyed the support of former President Nicholas Sarkozy and ex-PM Alain Juppe.

Melenchon is viewed as Fillon’s most direct rival. With his far-left stances, Melenchon has raised concerns among the right voters, who see in him a “communist” threat due to his anti-Europe and anti-globalization approach.

It seemed unfortunate for Fillon however that he was the last candidate to appear on Thursday’s debate, which went on late into the night, while Melenchon was the first.

The final day of campaigning will see two or even three electoral rallies by Macron, while Melenchon will hold one in Paris where he is due to be joined by Spanish left leader Pablo Iglesias, secretary general of the Podemos party.

The details of Fillon and Le Pen’s final electoral rallies have been kept under wraps.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama spoke to 39-year-old Macron on Thursday about the “important upcoming presidential election in France”, a spokesman for the former US president said.

Macron’s camp said the candidate had “warmly thanked” Obama for his “friendly call”.

Jean-Luc Melenchon: ‘Rebel Leftist’ Seeking French Presidency


Paris – If there is a need to demonstrate that Jean-Luc Melenchon, the French presidential candidate who has been described as the “rebellious France”, has started to affect his three rival candidates, one need only observe how all three of them have simultaneously launched an attack against him in wake of his rise in opinion polls.

Melenchon is running in the elections against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, centrist Emmanuel Macron and the traditional right’s Francois Fillon.

Most French recall that Melenchon emerged from the French Communist Party before abandoning it for the far-left. He has a clear presidential program and is an eloquent orator and therefore his rivals believe that the momentum that he has needs to be stopped. His rise has seen him reach third place in opinion polls, just after Le Pen and Macron and above Fillon.

His rivals believe that his program should be marginalized and voter should be persuaded that his election will mean the return of communism and Soviet tanks to Paris, the restructuring of companies and a flood of immigrants and refugees into France. These are a few of other “surreal excuses” that serve one goal: intimidating the people and forcing them to disregard this unconventional candidate.

Obscure Candidate

Less than a month ago, none of the three presidential hopefuls had regarded Melenchon as a contender. In fact, French Communist Party candidate Benoit Hamon had at one point gone so far as to call on Melenchon to withdraw from the race and support him instead in order to unite the leftist ranks. At the time, opinion polls indicated that Melenchon enjoyed 10 to 12 percent backing, while Hamon edged him out by a small margin.

Today however the situation has radically changed as Melenchon’s popularity now exceeds 20 percent as opposed to Hamon’s single digits. It is clear that the former has garnered the favor of the divided French Communist Party. The party’s liberal wing, which includes Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, has gone on to back Macron, while the leftist wing has backed Melenchon because he has better chances of reaching the second round of the presidential elections. The first round is scheduled for April 23, while the final round, in which the top two candidates compete, is set for May 7.

The truth of the matter is that Melenchon is edging closer to the top two candidates, Le Pen and Macron, who are losing ground in opinion polls. They are both hovering at around 22 to 23 percent, while Melenchon is going from strength to strength. The second round of the elections could see him running against Le Pen.

Nightmare Scenario

This is a nightmare scenario for several of the French as no one had seen Melenchon coming. His image has improved and he is seen as the candidate who is closest to the people and one with the cleanest record. Everyone agrees on his public speaking skills, but he has now become a threat to the right, left and center alike. If Macron’s numbers in opinion polls continue to decrease and Fillon remains mired in his family scandals, then the road will be clear for Melenchon. He will lead France towards the unknown, along with the country’s fate in the European Union.

The alarm bells have started to ring in France and outgoing President Francois Hollande, who has led the Socialist Party to its breaking point, told Le Monde newspaper in an indirect reference to Melenchon earlier this week that “we are seeing the orator, but forgetting the content and the program.” Hollande announced that the politics in France needs “renewal”, which can be seen as a reference to Macron, who is only 39 years old. The centrist candidate had served as assistant to the Elysee Palace general secretary before being appointed economy minister by Hollande.

Meanwhile, the pro-Fillon Le Figaro newspaper dedicated on Wednesday four pages to attack Melenchon, while its greatest fear is that the leftist pass him in opinion polls and make it to the second round of the elections. It said: “The problem lies in that he has prepared an electoral program that is inspired from South American revolutionists, specifically late Venezuelan ‘comrade’ Hugo Chavez. It is no secret that the ‘rebellious France’ candidate holds an unabashed admiration for him.”

It went on to note that Melenchon’s electoral program calls for increasing public spending to 270 billion euros, imposing a 100 percent income tax on all whose salaries exceed 400,000 euros annually, increasing paid work leave to six weeks and lowering the number of working hours per week. This will all harm the national economy and the financial markets have started to voice their concerns over the program, said Le Figaro.

Radical Economic Program

The right has said that Melenchon’s economic-social program is impossible to implement, while Fillon has descried it as a program for communist rule, which will sink the French economy like the Titanic. This is a fear that has been shared by business owners, who also warned of the consequent rise in unemployment and of France’s exit from the EU and abandonment of the euro.

An ardent defender of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s policies, including his stance on Syria, Melenchon has been touting himself as the “candidate of peace,” to which Macron responded that he rejects “Putin’s peace.” Melenchon was quick to respond to his critics, saying during an electoral rally on Wednesday: “If you elect any one of those three (Le Pen, Macron and Fillon), then you will bleed.” Furthermore, he indicated that during Fillon’s tenure as prime minister from 2007 to 2012, unemployment rose to exceed one million and public debt reached 600 billion euros. As for Macron, Melenchon indicated that during his time as economy minister, unemployment reached record numbers. He also berated him for “betraying” Hollande, who “made him,” saying that he abandoned the socialists to head to the Rothschild Bank.

First Round

In a few days, 47 million French voters will head to the first round of the presidential elections. Analysts agree that these elections will differ from all other previous ones since the establishment of the Fifth Republic in 1958. On the one hand, it is clear that the two main political parties that have taken turns in ruling the country over the past 60 years will likely not make it to the second round. On the other hand, this is the first time that the far-right, through Le Pen, has gotten this close to the Elysee Palace. The French are also dealing with the Macron phenomenon, who emerged as an independent candidate and who does not have a political party platform to fall back on. He established the “En Marche!” (“Forward!”) political movement last summer and is seeking to defeat the left and right. The problem should he be elected president lies in that he does not enjoy a parliamentary majority that will back his legislative efforts and ensure political stability. Le Pen and Melenchon face the same problem, which is why Fillon is trying to market himself as the only candidate who can guarantee such stability and lead the country.

Macron, Le Pen Still Leading Polls after ‘Historic’ Presidential Debate


Paris – All 11 candidates for the French presidency held a debate on Tuesday night, the first of its kind in the European country.

The four hours of debate, which drew in six million viewers, saw candidates clash over economy and redefining France’s place in Europe. While frontrunners 39-year-old centrist Emmanuel Macrona and 48-year-old far-right leader Marine Le Pen continued to lead the polls, the television debate helped shed light on the six lesser-known candidates.

“I want to recover the optimism of the French,” said Macron, currently tipped to win in May, asserting that entrepreneurs and businesses are job creators. “We must invest to get the machine going again.”

But Le Pen said the answer lies in “economic patriotism”, vowing to fight “out-of-control globalization” with her anti-EU agenda.

Former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, under pressure after being charged with misuse of public funds, said France’s grinding 10 percent unemployment and massive debt combined to create an “explosive situation”.

The 63-year-old conservative said Europe was “veering off course” and that France needs to get it back on track.

Communist-backed Jean-Luc Melenchon, 65, who has been rising in the polls, came out slugging against big business, saying it should “pay back” its riches. For his part Benoit Hamon, who is carrying the Socialist banner as Francois Hollande nears the end of a deeply unpopular presidency, vowed to “demolish” new labor laws seen as too pro-business, and create one million jobs in the next five years.

He took a swipe at Fillon, who has vowed to cut half a million jobs from the country’s bloated civil service.

The presence of the six minor candidates — all polling well under five percent — added a strong anti-capitalist element to the debate, as well as vivid anti-EU sentiment.

“The French understand that the stakes in this election are to reorient Europe” in view of globalization and Britain’s decision to quit the EU, said Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, head of Debout la France (Rise Up France).

Jacques Cheminade, head of the LaRouche movement, railed against what he called the “financial dictatorship” and Philippe Poutou of the New Anti-Capitalist Party slammed “those who stuff themselves”.

Jean Lassalle, speaking in the thick accent of the southwest, said he proposed a “future based on hope” in contrast to high suicide rates in the suburbs of main cities, as well as in rural communities — “that’s the reality”.

Security issues prompted a vigorous discussion as the country is still under state of emergency following deadly attacks in Paris in 2015.

Le Pen wants to reinstate France’s national borders to prevent potential attackers from entering the country.

She pledged to boost the military budget and suggested closing a hundred mosques in the country she describes as preaching a “radical” Islam.

Macron vowed to pursue France’s military operations in Syria, Iraq and Africa’s Sahel region and promised to hire 10,000 police forces to help ensuring security on the country’s territory.

In the crowded debate, each candidate was allowed to speak for around 15 minutes and the questions were restricted to just three themes — how to create jobs, how to protect France, and the thorny issue of how each candidate would implement their vision of France’s social model.

The final result of an election that is being watched closely around the world is still seen as highly unpredictable.

Dissatisfaction and outright hostility towards mainstream politics is high in France and surveys show around a third of voters plan to abstain, while around a third of likely voters say they have still not made up their minds.

Macron, whom the daily Le Parisien on Tuesday dubbed “the man to beat”, has warned that commentators are still underestimating Le Pen.

Those who say she stood no chance in May’s deciding round — between the top two places in the first round on April 23 — are “the same people who said (Donald) Trump couldn’t win”, Macron said.

He is facing the most scrutiny, as he is tipped to clinch final victory in a May 7 run-off against Le Pen.

Fillon Says Will Investigate Hollande’s ‘Meddling in Justice System’ if Elected


Paris – French presidential candidate Francois Fillon, an outsider to win after involvement in a financial scandal, said on Monday that he would launch a probe against President Francois Hollande over alleged justice system meddling, if he is elected.

Once the frontrunner, the conservative former prime minister’s poll ratings have slumped since allegations surfaced that he paid his wife, a son and a daughter hundreds of thousands of euros of public money for minimal work.

Fillon, 63, who is being investigated by magistrates over the jobs allegations and over a gift of expensive suits, insisted on his innocence.

He denounced what he calls the Socialist government’s “manipulations” that he says are designed to eliminate him from the presidential race.

Fillon told BFM television on Monday “if I had any doubt about my guilt, I wouldn’t be a candidate.”

He said he made a mistake when he initially announced he would withdraw if charged and suggested the government built up the case against him from nothing. He said: “I provided a means to eliminate me from the presidential race.”

“If I had the slightest doubt about my guilt I wouldn’t be a candidate in the presidential election,” he added.

He said he was the victim of “manipulation”, but drew back from previous allegations that Hollande, a Socialist president who is not standing for a second term, had personally led a smear campaign against him. He said he could not prove this.

He said however that prosecutors should open an inquiry into allegations made in a book by two journalists from satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine that Hollande had judicial wiretaps that interested him sent to his office.

“Prosecutors should take up this case. If they don’t do so and if I am elected president, there will be a parliamentary commission of inquiry,” Fillon said.

Hollande’s office has rejected Fillon’s accusations and denied interference in the justice system.

Two polls on Monday showed far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron neck-and-neck in the race, with each predicted to receive about 25 percent of the vote in the April 23 first round.

Macron had a half-point lead over Le Pen in an IFOP-Fiducial poll, while an Opinionway poll gave Le Pen a one-point lead over Macron. Both polls had Fillon lagging well behind in third place.

Only the top two candidates go through to the May 7 run-off, where polls predict Macron would easily beat Le Pen, who wants to take France out of the euro and hold a referendum on EU membership.

Voters Still Unsure as Hollande Hits Back at Scandal-hit Fillon’s Claims

France’s leader on Friday lashed out at presidential candidate Francois Fillon as an opinion poll showed that nearly half of all French voters have yet to decide who they want to be president with only a month to go until the election.

Fillon, who has slid from frontrunner to third in the race following “fake jobs” allegations, told French TV late Thursday that President Francois Hollande had headed a “secret cell” that was responsible for leaks against him.

It was a “scandal involving the state”, said the 63-year-old former prime minister.

“The press has been flinging mud at me for two months now,” Fillon told France 2, speaking as the first round of the two-stage election looms on April 23.

Fillon said that, according to a book out this week by “journalists who are far from being my friends”, Hollande had obtained the contents of wiretaps linked to judicial investigations “which is totally illegal”.

“We were looking for a secret cell and we found it,” Fillon said, referring to the alleged source behind a slew of accusations of wrongdoing that have mainly been made in the Canard Enchaine, an investigative and satirical newspaper.

Hollande responded furiously to Fillon’s accusations, saying he had exceeded the bounds of “dignity and responsibility” with his claims.

“I don’t want to enter the electoral debate… but there is a dignity, a responsibility to respect,” the president told French radio. “Fillon is beyond that now.”

French prosecutors have charged Fillon with several offences over accusations first made in the Canard Enchaine that he paid his wife Penelope 680,000 euros ($725,000) over 15 years for a fake job as his parliamentary aide.

It was revealed this week that the investigation has widened to include claims that the Fillons faked documents to support their case that she in fact performed duties to earn her salary.

Fillon has insisted throughout he did nothing wrong by employing his wife and also two of his children and has repeatedly claimed that he is the victim of a “political assassination”.

Meanwhile, an Odoxa poll, which came hours after Fillon’s attack on Hollande, showed that 43 percent of voters were undecided over which candidate to fall behind.

The uncertainty is a reflection of favorite Emmanuel Macron’s lack of political experience, a Socialist party that is riven by splits and in disarray, Fillon’s woes and a buoyant far-right.

Voter surveys show independent centrist Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen neck-and-neck in the April 23 first round, and that they would go through to a run-off vote that Macron would win easily.

Fillon lags in third and would be eliminated after the first vote.

Adding to the unpredictability, though, the Odoxa poll showed that 60 percent of Le Pen’s potential voters and 57 percent of Fillon’s had definitely decided on their candidate.

That figure fell to 47 percent for Macron, 44 percent for far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, and 40 percent for Socialist Benoit Hamon.

Juppe Rules Himself Out of French Presidency

Former French prime minister Alain Juppe said on Monday that he had decided “once and for all” not to stand as an alternative candidate to Francois Fillon, if the rightwing nominee, who is embroiled in a fake jobs scandal, decides to withdraw his bid.

“I confirm for a final time that I will not be a candidate to be president of the republic,” Juppe, 71, told a news conference in Bordeaux, the western coastal city where he is mayor.

He also criticized Fillon for his defiance of the justice system and criticism of the media.

Fillon’s defense of denouncing a plot “has led him into a dead end,” Juppe said, lamenting: “What a waste!”

Recalling the November rightwing primary, when Fillon easily beat Juppe to the nomination, he said the result was “uncontested” and that he immediately threw his support behind his Republicans party colleague.

He said Fillon had “an open road” ahead of him to the presidency before he was put under investigation for allegations that he paid his wife Penelope hundreds of thousands of euros from public funds with little work to show for it.

He said he did not think he could rally enough support behind a candidacy, adding: “It’s too late.”

Juppe noted that “part of the center” has deserted the Republicans, a reference to former Socialist economy minister Emmanuel Macron, who formed his own centrist movement and is now riding high in the polls.

Fillon’s poor showing would leave Macron to fight out the second round on May 7 with far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Polls have shown that Juppe as a candidate would have made the second round comfortably.

Earlier on Monday, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for Fillon and Juppe to meet with him in a bid to hammer out a solution to the crisis.

Sarkozy said on his Twitter feed that the aim of the meeting was to ensure a “dignified and credible way out from a situation which cannot last any longer and which is the source of deep concerns among French people”.

Fillon’s Presidential Campaign Suffers another Setback

The presidential bid of embattled French conservative Francois Fillon hit new trouble Friday after his spokesman announced he is leaving the campaign.

“I’ve decided to end my duties as Francois Fillon’s spokesman,” Thierry Solere said on his Twitter account.

Fillon is battling to save his campaign while facing charges in a fake jobs scandal.

The candidate revealed this week he is to be charged over allegations he paid his British-born wife hundreds of thousands of euros to work as his parliamentary assistant, even though little evidence can be found of the work she is supposed to have done.

Police raided the Fillons’ Paris residence on Thursday.

In a campaign rally in Nimes in southern France the same day, Fillon said, “My life has been put to the test in recent weeks” and is being “dissected” because of the jobs allegations.

He denied wrongdoing in the case. “Standing before you is a fighter,” he told the cheering crowd.

A member of the veteran Alain Juppe’s entourage said Friday that the former prime minister was ready to step in as the conservative presidential candidate if the 62-year-old Fillon decides to pull out.

Juppe, 71, “will not refuse if all the conditions are met — Francois Fillon has to take the decision to pull out himself and the rightwing and center camps… have to be united behind him”, the source said.

Already gone from Fillon’s campaign are two deputy directors, the treasurer and his foreign affairs spokesman.

According to an Odoxa poll, centrist Emmanuel Macron would come top in the first round of France’s presidential election ahead of far-right leader Marine Le Pen, the first to show Macron with a first-round lead.

The former economy minister would win 27 percent of the vote in the April 23 first round followed by Le Pen at 25.5, leaving Fillon eliminated at 19 percent, the poll showed.

However, if Fillon withdrew, then fellow conservative Juppe would get first place with 26.5 percent of the vote if he ran.

In that scenario, Macron would just barely make it to a May 7 runoff against Juppe, edging out Le Pen with 25 percent of the vote to 24 percent for her.

Fillon Apologizes Amidst Calls for his Withdrawal from French Presidential Race


Paris- French right-wing presidential candidate Francois Fillon, once seen as a front-runner to face the far-right Front National’s Marine Le Pen in the final round of the presidential election in May, has seen his ratings drop after anti-fraud prosecutors opened an investigation into allegations that he paid his wife and children large amounts of taxpayers’ money for fake parliamentary assistant jobs.

At a press conference on Monday, he refused to stand down as a candidate, insisting the jobs he gave his family were real, but he nonetheless offered his apologies to the French people.

Fillon apologized for employing his wife, while noting that it is not illegal and he is not the only politician to have done so.

“What was acceptable yesterday … is not today,” Fillon said.

“It was a mistake. I deeply regret it and I present my excuses to the French.”

French politicians are allowed to hire family members as aides as long as they actually do the jobs for which they are paid.

However, French prosecutors have launched a preliminary investigation into the possible misuse of public funds to determine whether or not Penelope Fillon in fact did any work for her husband.

That inquiry has now been extended to look at roles Fillon gave his children while he was a senator.

The preliminary probe involves suspicions of embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds.

Fillon’s popularity has dropped in the past two weeks following allegations that his British-born wife Penelope was paid 830,000 euros ($900,000) between 1998 and 2013 as a parliamentary assistant.

He also hired two of his children as assistants, paying them €84,000 pre-tax between 2005 and 2007.

The Paris prosecutor’s office on Thursday expanded its investigation to include Fillon’s son and daughter.

Fillon laid out for reporters in some detail his own facts about the accusations.

“Yes, I employed my wife as an aide,” Fillon said. He said she was paid an average 3,677 euros per month over 15 years.

“They call this job fictitious,” he said, laying out the ill-defined duties of parliamentary aides who work “in the shadows.”

“Her salary was perfectly justified because her work was indispensable to my activities as an elected official,” he said.

Fillon said the scandal grew out of a political conspiracy to take him out of the race, and make it a face-off between far-right leader Marine Le Pen — whose family he blasted as “untouchable” — and Emmanuel Macron, an untested former banker and Socialist Party maverick whom Fillon called a “guru.”

Fillon’s attempt to go on a counter-offensive came as Le Monde revealed new elements relating to the preliminary investigation.

The French newspaper reported that investigators were examining Fillon’s ties to Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière, the billionaire businessman owner of the literary magazine Revue des Deux Mondes, who is also reported to have allegedly paid Penelope Fillon €100,000 for doing little work.

The investigators are looking at whether the businessman paid Penelope Fillon about €5,000 a month pre-tax between May 2012 and December 2013 in return for being recommended by Fillon for France’s highest honor in 2010.

Fillon also gave details of the consulting firm he set up in 2012 at the end of his five-year term as prime minister.

The Canard Enchaîné, which broke the story of Penelope Fillon’s parliamentary assistant jobs, had reported that the company paid Fillon an after-tax salary of €757,000 since 2012.

Opponents had demanded he reveal the source of the money.

During the press conference, Fillon listed the company’s key clients and said no Russian business had paid him nor the Russian government, saying that all conferences he gave in Russia were free.

Besides far-right Le Pen and centrist Macron, Socialist Party candidate Benoit Hamon and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon are running for president.