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.