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Fillon says he would withdraw French candidacy if charged

epa05753008 Former French Prime minister and right-wing candidate for the upcoming presidential election Francois Fillon poses prior to a broadcast interview on a set of French TV channel TF1, in Boulogne-Billancourt, near Paris, France, 26 January 2017. Francois Fillon has become under pressure to explain the previous employment of his wife as parliamentary aide while he was a MP and to give details of the work she did. EPA/PIERRE CONSTANT / POOL MAXPPP OUT

EPA/PIERRE CONSTANT/POOL

Former French Prime minister and right-wing candidate for the upcoming presidential election Francois Fillon.

PARIS — French presidential candidate Francois Fillon said Thursday he would step out of the race if he were given preliminary charges by national financial prosecutors investigating an allegedly fake job held by his wife.

Fillon, speaking on French channel TF1, said there was nothing improper or illegal about employing his wife, Penelope, as his parliamentary aide for years.

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He said ‘‘her work was real’’ and that he will provide investigators with ‘‘all necessary proof.’’ But he said he wouldn’t submit to being tried in the media.

‘‘Only one thing would prevent me from being a candidate. It’s if my honor was harmed, if I were given preliminary charges,’’ said Fillon, one of the top contenders in the French presidential election this spring.

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‘‘I have always said that I wouldn’t be able to be a candidate for the presidential election if there was evidence that I had broken the law. This is not the case,’’ he said.

It’s not illegal for French legislators to hire their relatives as long as they are genuinely employed.

The conservative hopeful offered examples of the kinds of work he said his wife did as his aide during the late 1990s and 2000s. He said she corrected his speeches, received ‘‘countless’’ people who wanted to see him, and represented him at events and meetings.

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The job of parliamentary aide is not a ‘‘standardized job, which meets specific rules,’’ he said. ‘‘I will defend her, I love her, I will protect her,’’ he said.

France’s financial prosecutors opened a preliminary probe on Wednesday into suspected embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds after Le Canard Enchaine newspaper reported that Fillon’s wife was paid about $537,000 in public funds for a job she allegedly didn’t do.

Associated Press

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