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Fillon probe extended to luxury suit gifts
French right-wing presidential candidate François Fillon is to be be probed over luxury suits he received as gifts, according to judicial sources. The probe will broaden the ongoing investigation into the “fake job” scandal that saw him charged on Tuesday with misuse of public funds.
Investigators have extended the probe to include possible influence peddling after French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche (JDD) reported on Sunday that Fillon had received clothing worth thousands of euros from an unnamed benefactor.
According to the report, Paris luxury tailor Arnys has furnished roughly 48,500 euros worth of clothing to the candidate since 2012. This includes two suits worth some 13,000 euros that the candidate received in February.
All expenses have been paid by an anonymous benefactor, the weekly said, which added that 35,500 euros of the total sum had been paid in cash.
“I paid at the request of François Fillon,” the JDD quoted the benefactor as saying in regard to February's suits. “Without the slightest thanks since then, by the way.”
Fillon has admitted that a friend paid for two suits in February, and has claimed it was within his right to do so.
“It’s perfectly legal to receive a suit as a gift from a friend, it’s not prohibited,” he said.
Members of Parliament (MPs) can receive gifts as private citizens. However, if they receive donations worth more than 150 euros in their capacity as public officials, they must declare it.
“The question now is whether these gifts were made in an exclusively private capacity,” explained National Assembly ethics officer Ferdinand Mélin-Soucramanien, “or whether they were given as political donations.” Only in the latter case, he added, would the ethics office look into the matter.
Fillon’s mounting legal woes
The probe came two days after Fillon was charged over payments totalling roughly 680,000 euros to his wife Penelope, who worked as a parliamentary assistant between 1986 and 2013.
The allegation is that she was paid for work she did not do.
The official charges brought against him include misuse of public funds, complicity in misappropriation of funds, receiving the funds and failure to declare all assets.
The candidate has denied all allegations and has said he is the target of a political and media “witch hunt”.
“Every day I am hit with a new squall,” he said at a rally in Caen on Thursday. “I face it, I continue on. I stay the course.”
With nearly six weeks to go until the first round of the presidential election on 23 April, Fillon remains a distant third in the opinion polls, behind centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen.