PARIS, March 22 Francois Fillon's campaign chief
on Wednesday denounced what he called a daily "soap opera" of
media leaks designed to hurt the conservative French candidate's
prospects of becoming president.
Bruno Retailleau, Fillon's campaign coordinator, dismissed a
further slew of media reports suggesting conflicts of financial
and political interest, saying that Fillon's lawyers would meet
magistrates who are investigating the former prime minister.
"It's clear that these are orchestrated leaks," he told RTL
radio. "We're being dragged into a soap opera."
Once the frontrunner, the 63-year-old conservative former
prime minister has fallen to third place in polls and risks
being eliminated in the first round of the presidential election
a month from now in favour of a runoff between far-right leader
Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Marcon, an independent centrist.
Retailleau spoke out after media reports said magistrates
had broadened a judicial inquiry into hundreds of thousands of
euros Fillon paid to his wife Penelope and children as well as
his business consultancy activities.
"There's a problem when there's a conflict of interest ...
but that is not the case with Francois Fillon," said Retailleau,
who said a drip-feed of sleaze allegations was derailing the
pre-election competition between candidates.
A source close to the Fillon investigation said on Tuesday
that the inquiry had been widened to include suspicion that
false documents had been presented to justify the employment of
Fillon family members.
Additionally, Le Canard enchaine, the newspaper which broke
initial allegations that Fillon may have paid his family large
sums of public money for minimal work, reported in its latest
edition that a Lebanese billionaire paid a company owned by
Fillon $50,000 in 2015 to arrange introductions to Russian
President Vladimir Putin and Total TOTF.PA CEO Patrick Pouyanne.
No comment was immediately available from Total on that.
The favourite in opinion polls to win power on May 7 is now
Macron, who is ardently pro-European and seeks to transcend
traditional left-versus-right political cleavages. He is tipped
to convincingly beat Le Pen, leader of the anti-EU,
anti-immigrant National Front party.
(Reporting by Brian Love; Editing by Richard Balmforth)