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French press review 26 January 2017

Most of the French papers this morning explore the alleged scandal attached to the wife of François Fillion, the seemingly squeaky-clean and bullet-proof Presidential candidate of the conservative Republican party, regarded by many as the likely winner in two rounds of voting in the Spring.

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To sketch the background for those who missed it, the weekly le Canard Enchainé claimed Penelope Fillon, who was born in Wales, earned about 500,000 euros working as her husband's assistant in Parliament.

The newspaper, which said it had access to her payslips, questioned how much work she did for the money.

It claimed she was paid the money in three periods between 1998 and 2012.

But, its reporters had been unable to find any witnesses to her work.

In a press release, the national financial prosecutor's office said it had opened a preliminary investigation into possible "embezzlement of public funds, misuse of company assets and concealment of these offences".

Speaking to reporters at a campaign event in Bordeaux, Fillon compared the newspaper report to a "stink bomb."

He refused detailed comment because, he said, there is nothing to comment on.

But, he was outraged by what he called "the contempt and the misogyny of the story."

Fillon's staff said that his wife worked for him in a common and legal arrangement used by many MPs.

Left-leaning Libération teases the story on its front page with head headline "Fillon sandblasted", promising four inside pages.

Inside it trumpets what it calls "a cannonball in the campaign", for the Presidency that is.

On the Richter scale of political accidents, says Libé, this one could reach the summit.

Twelve weeks ahead of the the presidential election, this accusation is potentially devastating for the man who has rightly made righteousness and honesty his trademark.

Why is this a political catastrophe, the paper asks.

The answer is since he declared himself a candidate for the Presidential election Fillon has not ceased to present himself as the heir of an austere and rigorous political tradition.

For more than four years he has being saying only an irreproachable President can ask the French to consent to the "efforts" necessary for the "national recovery".

This case is a ticking time bomb, says Libé. It's going to make its way in the brain of the voters.

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The communist daily l'Humanité twists the knife, claiming Fillion pays little regard to the spending of public money.

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On its front page - centrist le Monde pictures a pensive looking Fillon under the headline "the affair that embarrasses Fillion."

A statement of the obvious - perhaps - but not seeking to score partisan points from allegation which are - as yet - unproven.

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Right-wing le Figaro details the accusations and - like le Monde - stresses that they are being investigated.

It runs a statement from Fillion in which he said he wants to be quickly heard by the courts, in order to restore the truth.

"I will fight to defend my honour," he says.

Coverage of the story in the posh papers is measured and prudent.

However, whatever the outcome, there seems little doubt it will damage Fillion, who has promised to curb wasteful public spending and to cut 500,000 civil service jobs if elected.

Which sits uneasily with making generous payments to his wife from the public purse.
 

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