The Fillon affair (also the Penelope Fillon affair or Penelopegate) is a political-financial scandal involving allegations that family members of French politician François Fillon were given paid jobs that involved no or very little actual work. The case arose during the campaign for the 2017 French presidential election which Fillon, the candidate of the Republicans after winning the primary of the right and centre, was strongly favored to win.
The affair began when the satirical weekly Le Canard enchaîné alleged in its edition of 25 January 2017 that Penelope Fillon, wife of François Fillon, received €500,000 as a parliamentary assistant to her husband and his substitute Marc Joulaud between 1998 and 2007 and in 2012. It also claimed that she was paid €100,000 as a literary adviser to the Revue des deux Mondes. The absence of evidence of work by Penelope Fillon and her distance from political life, however, led the newspaper to suspect that these jobs were fictitious. The same day, the national financial prosecutor (parquet national financier, or PNF) opened a preliminary investigation into embezzlement and misuse of public funds.
On 1 February, Le Canard enchaîné published a new article in which it claimed that, including the years 1988 to 1990 and 2013, the total wages Penelope Fillon collected as a parliamentary assistant were in fact €813,440. In addition, the weekly also revealed that two of the couple’s children, Charles and Marie Fillon, received €84,000 while employed from 2005 to 2007 as assistants to their father, then a Senator.
On 17 February, contrary to his previous promise that he would drop his bid if placed under formal investigation, François Fillon announced he would maintain his candidacy regardless. On 14 March, he was placed under formal investigation for misuse of public funds, embezzlement, and failure to comply with transparency requirements. The investigation was subsequently extended to “aggravated fraud, forgery, falsification of records” and influence-peddling on 16 March, as investigators raised concerns that seized documents were forged in order to provide evidence of tangible work by Penelope Fillon.
Defections and expansion of case (5 March–present)
A total of 306 elected officials and members of the Fillon campaign withdrew their support for the candidate by 5 March. Despite this chain of defections, François Fillon remained defiant, planning a rally at the Trocadéro on that afternoon. Many elected officials deplored Fillon’s denouncements of the judicial system, including politicians on the right such as President of the Regional Council of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Christian Estrosi, who urged him to exit the race. In a half-hour speech to a crowd of supporters, he said that, attacked from all sides as a victim of a manhunt, he examined his conscience and admitted he had made a mistake in employing his wife, and a second mistake in his hesitation to address the issue. However, he did not remark on the continuation of his candidacy. He then appeared on 20 heures on France 2 that evening, during which he refused to give up his candidacy, saying that “there is no alternative” and adding that “no one today can stop me from being a candidate”, insisting that “it is not the party that will decide” the fate of his candidacy. He said that the rally at the Trocadéro cemented his legitimacy, and that though he would have stepped down two months ago if indicted then, it was now too close to the presidential election and it would be unfair to voters of the right if he quit now. With a “political committee” planned for the following day, he proposed to assemble a modified campaign team, naming François Baroin, Éric Ciotti, and Luc Chatel, in an attempt to rally support around his candidacy. Immediately after Fillon’s appearance, Juppé announced on Twitter that he give a statement to the press in Bordeaux at 10:30 CET the day after.
Sources close to Juppé reportedly told L’Obs that he shared his decision not to run with relatives during the late afternoon of 5 March, and he officially announced his abstention from the race on 6 March, saying that “for me, it is too late”. He added that Fillon was at a “dead end” with his allegations of political assassination, and lamenting “What a mess!” He also criticized the right turn of the party under Fillon, saying that the party’s militants had become “radicalized”. The same day, the party’s “political committee” rallied behind Fillon, unanimously reaffirming its support for his candidacy, and a three-way meeting between Fillon, Juppé and Sarkozy was planned for the following day, but it was cancelled on 7 March because Juppé was no longer interested in remaining involved in the campaign. The same day, Le Canard enchaîné revealed that Fillon had failed to declare to the HATVP a €50,000 loan from Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière, the president of Revue des deux Mondes who was questioned by police about the terms of his employment of Penelope Fillon. The UDI renewed its support for Fillon that evening, albeit only conditionally.
Seeking to stabilize his campaign, Fillon appointed a group of Sarkozy allies to his team on 9 March: Christian Jacob and Bruno Retailleau as “campaign coordinators”, François Baroin responsible for political unity, and Luc Chatel as spokesman. On 13 March, Le Parisien revealed that investigators discovered suspicious wire transfers made by Marie and Charles Fillon to their father while employed by him, with Marie returning €33,000 of the €46,000 she was paid (having told investigators as much on 9 February). She explained that these transfers represented a reimbursement for the cost of her marriage on 26 August 2006, but investigators suspected that the payments could have been used to support her father’s lifestyle. She also provided fourteen bills, her diary, a badge from the Senate, and evidence of research to investigators tasked with the fictitious employment case. Charles Fillon, in his hearing at the OCLCIFF, referred to similar transfers to his parents’ joint account, worth about 30% of his salary.
On the morning of 14 March, Fillon was placed under formal investigation for misuse of public funds, embezzlement, and failure to comply with HATVP disclosure requirements. On 16 March the investigation into Fillon, delegated to three investigative judges, was extended to “aggravated fraud, forgery, and falsification of records”. In particular, the probe seeks to determine whether documents seized during a search of the National Assembly in March were forged in order to corroborate the veracity of Penelope Fillon’s work as a parliamentary assistant. The investigation was also expanded into possible influence-peddling related to Fillon’s consulting firm 2F Conseil, which was previously hired by billionaire Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière, owner of the Revue des deux Mondes, which employed Penelope Fillon. In 2013 de Lacharrière also provided a €50,000 loan to François Fillon, who failed to declare it as legally required. On 24 March, Marc Joulaud, Fillon’s former substitute, was formally placed under investigation for embezzlement of public funds. Penelope Fillon was placed under formal investigation for complicity in and concealment of embezzlement and misuse of public funds, as well as aggravated fraud, on 28 March.
On 10 April, Mediapart revealed that Penelope Fillon had in fact been paid by the National Assembly starting in 1982, not 1986, as earlier claimed by François Fillon. The edition of Le Canard enchaîné set for publication on 12 April revealed that François Fillon secured his then-fiancée a job three times the minimum wage in a Parisian ministry as early as 1980 while he was serving as deputy chief of staff to Minister of Defence Joël Le Theule; her contract ended after 15 months, when the Socialists ascended to power.