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 €831,400 (£760,000; $938,000) for work she never did as his assistant.
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 Mr Fillon’s immediate detention.
He is the most senior French political figure to receive a custodial sentence since the start of the Fifth Republic in 1958.
Delivering the verdict in a Paris courthouse on Monday, the presiding judge said: “The payment was disproportionate to the work done. Mrs Fillon was hired for a position that was without use.”
Ms Fillon was found guilty of complicity to embezzle and conceal public funds.
Coronavirus masks obscured the couple’s expressions as the verdicts were read out.
François Fillon vows to fight on
Francois 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 Mr Fillon’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 Mr Fillon 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 Penelope Fillon – 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.
Mr 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 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 Mr Fillon and his family.
According to the magazine, Mrs 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 2002-2007, Mrs Fillon worked for her husband’s successor as an MP, Marc Joulaud. He too has been given a three-year suspended sentence.
And during a brief stint working for her husband between 2012-2013, Mrs Fillon allegedly did not have a work email or parliamentary pass.