Former prime minister François Fillon, right, and his wife Penelope Fillon. Picture: AFP/JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER
Former prime minister François Fillon, right, and his wife Penelope Fillon. Picture: AFP/JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER

Paris — Former French prime minister François Fillon and his wife are in court to defend themselves against accusations they got more than €1m for a fake job she held as a parliamentary aide for about a decade.

Penelope Fillon never set foot in the National Assembly despite being paid as a full-time aide, first to her husband when he was an MP and then his replacement, according to the indictment. For a time, her salary averaged $140,000 a year.

Investigators say that they found no trace of the kind of work that might be expected of an aide even though Fillon said his wife assisted him daily by providing memos and input on draft speeches. The Paris embezzlement trial, which is scheduled to start on Monday, will run until March 11.

“Commonplace activities such as going to a concert or a play, attending a festival as a family, doing grocery shopping and taking the children to school, even if she could at times meet Francois Fillon’s voters, or gathering some information on the local life” aren’t part of an aide’s job, French investigators said in the indictment.

The Fillon revelations in early 2017 derailed his campaign to become France’s next president. Fillon was a clear favourite until then — the governing Socialists’ candidate and a relatively-novice Emmanuel Macron lagged behind, while far-right leader Marine Le Pen had a very slim chance of winning the runoff.

An article in the weekly Le Canard Enchaîné prompted financial prosecutors at the Parquet National Financier to open a probe. Fillon’s lead in the polls melted but he refused to pull out of the race. He didn’t make it to the second round and Macron went on to beat Le Pen.

After his defeat, Fillon quit politics and within months was named senior partner at French money manager Tikehau Capital.

Attorneys for Fillon, his wife and his replacement at the National Assembly declined to comment beyond telling Agence France-Presse they would ask on Monday to delay the start of the trial by a day to lend their support to lawyers on strike against the country’s pensions reform.

The trial will focus on public money Penelope Fillon received between 1998 and 2007 and in 2012-2013. During that time, investigators say Fillon’s wife had no timetable, no work computer, cellphone or e-mail address linked to the job in Parliament.

Between 2007 and 2012, Fillon was France’s prime minister. His wife also got a salary as a parliamentary aide between 1981 and 1990 but the payments weren’t included because they fell outside the country’s statute of limitations.

When Fillon was in government between 2002 and 2007, his wife remained a parliamentary aide for his replacement, Marc Joulaud. Investigators say Penelope Fillon’s salary during those years was set by her husband and was larger than what Joulaud earned. During those five years, she made more than €645,000.

Penelope Fillon and her husband have said that her role was to mentor Joulaud and help him adjust to the office but investigators say the defendants weren’t able to cite specific examples of that work. The authorities said that Joulaud’s archives don’t provide evidence of her work, and that she wasn’t copied on e-mails Joulad sent at the time.

At the time of the facts, the maximum sentence for embezzlement was 10 years in jail and a €150,000 fine. The National Assembly is also planning to seek about €1m in damages — the amount that may have unduly been paid out to Penelope Fillon, said Yves Claisse, a lawyer for the French parliament.