What is Penelopegate?

What is the fake jobs scandal that has François Fillon, the centre-right French presidential candidate, on the slide?

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François Fillon, for a long time considered the frontrunner in the French presidential race, has seen his strong position crumble to the point that he is now a weak third in most of the polls. The reason? Penelopegate or the “fake jobs” scandal.

It emerged that Fillon’s wife, Penelope Fillon, had been paid €800,000  over eight years to work as a parliamentary assistant for her husband, despite there being no evidence that she did any work and a series of interviews in which she talked about her life as a housewife, including a Telegraph interview in 2007 in which she told the interviewer “I have never actually been his assistant or anything like that”.

Although, as in the United Kingdom, it is not illegal for politicians to employ relatives, it is illegal to employ them unless they are working.

The scandal took on a farcical element when it emerged that Penelope Fillon had been given redundancy payments when her husband became a minister. (In France, ministers cannot continue to serve as MPs.) The payments were above average size for and over the recommend ceiling for such payments.

In addition, it has been revealed that two of Fillon’s sons have also been employed as parliamentary assistants and, similarly, there is no evidence that they did any work.

Fillon is currently under judicial investigation but despite that, has vowed to continue running for the French presidency.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.