Fresh blow to François Fillon as prosecutor keeps open inquiry

France’s financial prosecutor has announced that an investigation into fake work allegations surrounding the presidential candidate François Fillon will remain open, in a new blow to the ex-prime minister’s campaign.

A three-week-old scandal over hundreds of thousands of euros in taxpayers’ money that his wife was paid for work she may not have done has cost conservative Fillon his status as favourite to win the French presidency in May.

“It is my duty to affirm that the numerous elements collected [by investigators] do not, at this stage, permit the case to be dropped,” the prosecutor Éliane Houlette said in a statement after receiving an initial police report on the subject.

The prosecutor did not announce any further steps, but among the choices before it are: dropping the case, taking it further by appointing an investigating magistrate or sending it straight to trial.

Fillon, 62, has said he would step down from the campaign should he be put under formal investigation, but his camp has also challenged the legitimacy of the inquiry. The first round of the election is less than 10 weeks away.

The candidate reiterated his criticism of the case in comments to the conservative newspaper Le Figaro on Thursday, saying that Houlette’s statement merely added to the “media circus” surrounding the affair.

He remained as determined as ever to continue his election campaign, he added.

The favourite to win the election is now the centrist Emmanuel Macron, but by a very narrow margin over Fillon, who represents Les Républicains.

Opinion polls suggest the far-right Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, will win the first round on 23 April but then lose to either man in a 7 May run-off of the two top scoring first-round candidates.

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