France's Fillon Vows to Continue Presidential Race Amid Penelopegate Scandal

Fillon was the front-runner in the presidential election as little as two months ago but his campaign has been swamped by an investigation into his wife's job as a parliamentary aide after a newspaper reported that she took her public salary without doing any work.

Mr Fillon, who turned 63 on Saturday, has seen his support dwindle after he disclosed he will face charges over allegations he gave his family fake parliamentary jobs.

The Republicans candidate was the frontrunner until mid-January when the Canard Enchaine newspaper claimed he had paid his wife and two of their children almost €900,000 (£780,000) as parliamentary assistants or advisors.

"He needed someone to do a lot of different tasks, and if it wasn't for me, he would have paid someone to do it, so we decided it would be me", Penelope told Le Journal du Dimanche.

She added that she was telling her husband everyday that he should "continue until the end", but the final decision would be down to him.

"I made a second mistake by hesitating on how to tell you about it".

Mr Fillon and his wife have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and the right-wing candidate slammed the "Penelopegate" scandal as a "political assassination".

It also emerged that police raided the Fillons' country manor house near the northwestern town of Le Mans on Friday looking for evidence. His Paris apartment was searched on Thursday.

The comments came after Fillon's supporters gathered in Paris in their thousands.

Polls now show he would be eliminated in the first round, leaving far-right leader Marine Le Pen and 39-year-old centrist Emmanuel Macron to contest the May 7 runoff.

Fillon has been summoned to speak to judges March 15, which he acknowledges could be the first step toward being charged.

Some lawmakers in Fillon's Republicans party have called for a change of candidate, with the first round of the election fast approaching on April 23.

His foreign affairs point man and campaign spokesman have quit and the leader of the small centrist UDI party said it was withdrawing its backing.

The rally will be a test of his credibility before party executives meet on Monday to discuss his future amid growing support for former rival Alain Juppe.

A Kantar Sofres-Onepoint poll released on Sunday continued to show Fillon losing his bet to overturn sliding popularity in the wake of "PenelopeGate".

As Fillon struggles, centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron is surging.

  • Leroy Wright