French conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon has come under mounting pressure to quit the race for the presidency as top campaign staff and dozens of MPs leave his team after corruption charges were filed against him.
Fillon’s chief campaign spokesman Thierry Solère, who is also a parliament member, became the latest figure among the nearly 100 elected politicians to leave his campaign on Friday over growing concerns that he is leading what has been described as a “sinking ship.”
The troubled candidate revealed this week that he was to be charged over allegations that he paid his British wife hundreds of thousands of euros from taxpayers’ funds for a suspected fake job as his parliamentary assistant. Additionally, he is accused of hiring his children in fake jobs that paid them extremely high salaries while they were students.
However, he has denied the allegations, insisting at a Thursday night rally that he would press on as a presidential candidate. “The French people back me,” he has said.
Asked on Thursday what he would do if all elected politicians quit his campaign, he insisted that he would carry on without them.
Fillon has dropped in nationwide polls and appears on his way to be knocked out of the presidential race before the final round by the independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and the ultra-right candidate Marine Le Pen.
Former right-wing minister Nadine Morano, a former Fillon backer, said that the candidate must step down. He cautioned that Fillon was in a “dead end,” his presidential chances were slipping away, and that he risked bringing “catastrophe” to the right.
Fillon had vowed that he would step down if charges were pressed against him but he has retracted on his pledge. Instead, he slammed judges and the justice system and censured the workings of the French state this week with growingly inflammatory language, urging his supporters to rise up and “resist.”
Meanwhile, the far-right candidate Le Pen has been summoned by judges over the alleged misuse of European Union funds, said her lawyer, Marcel Ceccaldi, insisting that she will not attend the proceedings before the end of the current presidential election campaign.
"Of course she won't go,"Ceccaldi stated, as quoted in a Reuters report.
Le Pen is accused of hiring her France-based personal staff, including her bodyguard and chief of staff, in fake jobs as “assistants” at the European Parliament in Brussels using EU funds to pay them.
Le Pen has slammed the probe as a “political plot” against her, stressing that voters will not fall for the tactic.