Francois Fillon and his wife Penelope are expected Wednesday at the Paris Criminal Court. The former Prime Minister is notably suspected of having employed his wife for years as a parliamentary assistant, for services deemed fictitious or overvalued.
After a false start on Monday, the trial of the fictitious job suspicions of ex-Prime Minister Francois Fillon and his wife Penelope is due to open on Wednesday 26 February in Paris with the examination of procedural points. The Fillon spouses and the former deputy of Francois Fillon at the Assembly, Marc Joulaud, face ten years in prison and heavy fines.
The long-awaited trial, suspended in the wake of its opening Monday, had been postponed for 48 hours a few minutes after it opened on Monday. The criminal court had granted a request for a referral from the defense, which requested this postponement in support of the lawyers’ strike against the reform of their autonomous pension scheme.
“Evidence […] will be provided”
Wednesday afternoon, the hearing must begin with the examination of two priority questions of constitutionality (QPC) raised by the defense of the three defendants. One will be argued by Francois Fillon’s lawyer, the other by that of Penelope Fillon, and the court will have to respond to it before examining the merits of the case.
If the court decides to refer one of these QPCs to the Court of Cassation, the trial will be postponed pending the decision of the high court. Otherwise, it will probably be necessary to wait until Thursday to tackle the first part of the case: the employment of parliamentary assistant which Penelope Fillon benefited from with her husband.
He in a dark suit, face closed, she in a black suit, half-long white hair and glasses, Francois and Penelope Fillon, 65 and 64, arrived Monday under a cloud of cameras.
The right-wing presidential candidate of 2017 had left politics on a humiliating failure on the evening of the first round, after a presidential campaign pulverized by this affair.
Converted into finance, he assures that “the proofs” of the reality of the work of his wife, who was his “first and most important collaborator” in Sarthe, “will be brought”.
Justice had seized the same day of the first revelations of a long series, January 25, 2017, in Le Canard enchaîne.
Two years of investigation
The examining magistrates, after more than two years of investigation, acquired the conviction that Penelope Fillon benefited from “fictitious” jobs as a parliamentary assistant to her deputy husband and to his deputy in Sarthe, Marc Joulaud.
Part of the charges of embezzlement, complicity or concealment, which date back to 1981, are time-barred. In the 1998-2013 period alone, more than one million euros of public money was “embezzled”, believe the investigators.
The practice of family jobs, prohibited in the wake of the “Penelopegate”, was then legal and widespread. But the investigators launched on the track of the jobs of Penelope Fillon hardly found testimonies or archives demonstrating the reality of its activities of a parliamentary assistant.
Nor were they convinced by the numerous exhibits tendered by the defense to attest to the work accomplished, nor by the arguments invoking the “discretion” of Penelope Fillon or her essentially oral work.
The defense, which will plead the acquittal, called as witnesses three long-time collaborators of Francois Fillon, including the secretary who follows him since his debut in politics in 1981.
A job “of pure convenience, without real consideration”
The Fillon are also prosecuted for concealment and complicity in the misuse of corporate assets, for the employment of “literary advisor” obtained by Penelope Fillon at the Revue des Deux Mondes, a property of Marc Ladreit de Lacharriere, a friend of Francois Fillon, paid 135 000 euros between 2012 and 2013.
A job “of pure convenience, without real consideration” according to the prosecution, for which the billionaire was sentenced for misuse of corporate property at the end of a separate procedure “plead guilty”.
They are also accused of “jobs of convenience” granted to two of their children when Francois Fillon was a senator and Francois Fillon for not declaring a loan from Marc Ladreit de Lacharriere.
The only civil party to the trial, the National Assembly requests more than one million euros in damages if the court considers that the jobs are fictitious. The trial is scheduled to last until March 11.