SHARE
COPY LINK

POLITICS

Macron seeks review of fraud case against ex-rival Fillon

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.

Macron seeks review of fraud case against ex-rival Fillon
Francois Fillon. Photo: AFP

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 (dollars) 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.

“These statements, which have provoked a significant outcry, have been interpreted as showing that pressure could have been put on the judiciary during a critical moment in our democratic process,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement.

“It is therefore essential to remove all doubt on the independence and impartiality of the justice system in this matter,” it said.

Prosecutors have asked the Paris court to give Fillon, 66, a five-year sentence, with three years suspended, as well as a three-year suspended jail term for his Welsh-born wife Penelope.

They accuse Fillon of paying his wife 613,000 euros net ($700,000) in public money over 15 years for a fictitious job, saying the couple produced no solid proof she ever carried out any significant work.

 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

POLITICS

French government aims to block ‘burkinis’ in swimming pools

France's interior minister said on Tuesday that he would seek to overturn a rule change in the city of Grenoble that would allow women to wear burkinis in state-run swimming pools.

French government aims to block 'burkinis' in swimming pools

The all-in-one swimsuit, used by some Muslim women to cover their bodies and hair while bathing, is a controversial issue in France where critics see it as a symbol of creeping Islamisation.

The Alpine city of Grenoble changed its swimming pool rules on Monday to allow all types of bathing suits, not just traditional swimming costumes for women and trunks for men which were mandated before.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin called the change an “unacceptable provocation” that was “contrary to our values”, adding that he had asked for a legal challenge to the new regulations.

Under a new law to counter “Islamist separatism” passed by parliament last year, the government can challenge decisions it suspects of undermining France’s strict secular traditions that are meant to separate religions from the state.

Attempts by several local mayors in the south of France to ban the burkini on Mediterranean beaches in the summer of 2016 kicked off the first firestorm around the bathing suit.

The restrictions were eventually overturned for being discriminatory.

Grenoble’s mayor Eric Piolle, one of the country’s highest profile Green politicians who leads a broad left-wing coalition locally, has championed the city’s move as a victory.

“All we want is for women and men to be able to dress how they want,” Piolle told broadcaster RMC on Monday.

The head of the EELV party, Julien Bayou, argued that the decision had nothing to do with secularism laws, which oblige state officials to be neutral in religious matters but guarantee the rights of citizens to practice their faith freely.

Burkinis are not banned in French state-run pools on religious grounds, but for hygiene reasons, while swimmers are not under any legal obligation to hide their religion while bathing.

“I want Muslim women to be able to practice their religion, or change it, or not believe, and I would like them to be able to go swimming,” he added. “I want them also to suffer less demands to dress in one way or another.”

Grenoble is not the first French city to change its rules.

The northwestern city of Rennes quietly updated its pool code in 2019 to allow burkinis and other types of swimwear.

SHOW COMMENTS