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    A Republican Guard lowers the French national flag at half-mast at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, July 15, 2016, the day after the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice.

    Yet Another French Political Earthquake Rocks Presidential Race

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    France has been rocked by yet another political scandal. Plus ça change. The investigation into whether or not the wife of presidential candidate Francois Fillon earned money for nothing is just the latest in a series of scandals that have hit French politics. But where is it on the Richter scale?

    The latest allegations are against the Welsh-born wife of former French PM and Republican hopeful for the presidency, who is alleged to have earned US$538,000 working as his assistant. Although there is nothing at all wrong with doing so — many politicians employ relatives — the weekly magazine Le Canard Enchainé cannot find a single person who remembers her actually doing any work for him.

    Penelope Fillon, wife of Francois Fillon, a candidate in Sunday's primary runoff to select a conservative candidate for the French presidential election, applauds during a campaign rally in Paris, France. (File)
    © AP Photo/ Francois Mori
    Penelope Fillon, wife of Francois Fillon

    With just weeks to go before the presidential election, April 23, the news that the pair are now under investigation by the authorities for "embezzlement of public funds, misuse of company assets and concealment of these offences" — as the French newspaper Libé put it —  "could reach the summit on the Richter scale of political accidents".

    Holocaust

    However, French politicians are quite used to controversy — whether political, financial or sexual and no party has had more earthquakes than the Front National (FN) and the Le Pen family. In 2016, it was announced that the FN was under investigation for misusing assets and defrauding the state during the 2012 parliamentary election, dealing a further blow to its leader Marine Le Pen.

    She has been embroiled in a bitter row with her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was expelled from the party and announced he was setting up a rival party called the "Blue-White-Red Rally", after the colors of the French Flag.

    Marine le Pen had been keen to distance herself from her father, who has attracted severe criticism over his views on the holocaust. In April 2015, Le Pen reiterated his past comments that the Nazi gas chambers were a mere detail of history.

    He denounced her after his expulsion and told her to marry so that she could no longer have the family name and said it would be "scandalous" if his daughter won in the 2017 French presidential elections after the way she treated him. 

    'Cluster Bomb'

    Meanwhile, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy (under whom Fillon was PM) was, February 2016, placed under investigation by the Paris Prosecutor over alleged irregularities in his 2012 re-election campaign finances, in a further blow to his reputation and hopes of running again. He was defeated in the 2017 primary.

    French ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy
    French ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy

    "Bygmalion is a cluster bomb" ran the headline in the French online news portal, when it was announced that Sarkozy was under investigation over the allegation that the Bygmalion organization had issued US$20.1 million in false invoices during Sarkozy's 2012 presidential campaign.

    The effect of the PR agency's over-invoicing of Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party — now called The Republicans — was, it is alleged, that Sarkozy benefitted from funding that was in excess of legal allowances for political campaigning.

    'Too Sexy'

    However, the culturally most explosive scandal occurred when the ex-partner of current French President Francois Hollande, Valérie Trierweiler posted a picture of herself on Twitter wearing a t-shirt with the slogan "I'm too sexy for my ex," publicizing her kiss-and-tell book on their relationship.

    French president Francois Hollande is pictured during a meeting with the French Foreign Affairs Minister and figures from the cultural world and members of associations committted to peace in Syria, on October 14, 2016 at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris
    © AFP 2017/ MARTIN BUREAU
    French president Francois Hollande

    She said she felt "illegitimate" and "dehumanized" after Hollande took over the presidency and was told by a member of his entourage: "If you want an evening with Francois, you need to pass it through me."

    Her book — entitled 'Merci pour ce moment' — contravened an unwritten rule of French politics — affairs are OK, but the president is inviolable.

    Her kiss-and-tell narrative led to getting a hammering in the media and — as Bruno Roger-Petit, political columnist for Le Nouvel Observateur put it:

    "The president has been stripped naked. Naked as no president has been before him. The king's body has been profaned."

    Related:

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    French Presidential Hopeful Fillon's Wife Paid Over $500,000 as His Aide
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    Tags:
    French 2017 election, French presidential election, scandal, election, Republicans party, Party of Socialists, Front National, Jean-Marie Le Pen, Francois Hollande, Marine Le Pen, Nicholas Sarkozy, Francois Fillon, France
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