PARIS (AFP) – French President Emmanuel Macron has called for a probe into claims that prosecutors were pressured to move fast in a fraud inquiry against Francois Fillon, a former prime minister and his main rightwing rival in France’s 2017 presidential race.
Fillon lost what many considered a certain victory after a newspaper report claimed that he orchestrated a fake parliamentary assistant job for his wife that saw her paid hundreds of thousands of euros in public funds.
A ruling will be handed down on June 29 after a trial in which Fillon vigorously denied the claims, saying he was the victim of a political hit job.
The scandal flared anew this week after it emerged that the former head of France’s Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) told lawmakers she had sustained “pressure” and “very strict oversight” aimed at bringing charges quickly against Fillon.
Fillon’s supporters seized on the comments as proof that the prosecutor’s superiors, possibly acting at the behest of justice ministry officials, had infringed upon the judiciary’s independence to speed his downfall.
He was charged six weeks after the fraud claims emerged in the Canard Enchaine newspaper, an unusually swift move in a country where legal inquiries can take months or years.
The top Paris public prosecutor denied exercising any undue pressure, and on Friday the former financial prosecutor, Eliane Houlette, tried to walk back her statements, saying she “regretted” that they had been “distorted or misunderstood.”
But the uproar prompted Macron’s office to say late Friday that the president had asked France’s judicial watchdog, the Supreme Judiciary Council, to investigate the claims.