A Paris court sentenced former French Prime Minister François Fillon to five years in prison, three of which were suspended, for using public funds to pay his wife and children for work they had never done.
His wife Penelope Fillon was sentenced to a three-year suspended prison sentence Monday for complicity in the fraud that brought the family to more than one million euros ($ 1.13 million) since 1998.
The court also fined each of them 375,000 euros ($ 423,100) and banned François from standing for election for the next 10 years.
The couple said they would appeal the verdict.
The scandal erupted in the French media just three months before the 2017 presidential election in the country, Fillon being the favorite of the race. It cost him his reputation. Fillon sank to third place in the election, which was won by President Emmanuel Macron.
The role of Penelope alongside her husband drew all the attention during the February-March trial, which focused on determining whether her activities were in the traditional role of partner of an elected official – or involved a real paid work.
During the trial, Penelope explained how she decided to support her husband’s career when he was first elected French legislator in 1981 in the small town of Sable-sur-Sarthe, in the west of Rural France.
Over the years, she has been offered different types of contracts as a parliamentary assistant, depending on her husband’s political career.
She described her work as primarily reporting on local issues, opening mail, meeting residents and helping to prepare speeches for local events.
|Former French Prime Minister Fillon awaits verdict on corruption case (02:28)|
She said working this way allowed her to work flexible hours and raise their five children in the Fillons country mansion. She said that her husband was the one who decided the details of his contracts.
Prosecutors pointed to the lack of real evidence of her work, including the absence of a declaration for any paid leave or maternity leave, as her salary was up to nine times France’s minimum wage.
Prosecutor Aurelien Letocart argued that “meeting voters, taking children out of school, shopping or reading mail is not meant to be paid work.”
Letocart said that François “had a deep sense of impunity, the certainty that his status would deter anyone from pursuing him … It becomes cynical when this attitude comes from a man who has made probity his trademark.”
François insisted that his wife’s work was real and said that, according to the separation of powers, the judicial system could not interfere with the way a legislator organized work in his office.
In addition, the charges also cover a contract that helped Penelope earn 135,000 euros ($ 152,316) in 2012-2013 as a consultant for a literary magazine owned by a friend of her husband – also a suspected bogus job.
The owner of the magazine, Marc de Lacharrière, has already pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight months suspended prison sentence and a fine of 375,000 euros (423,100 dollars) in 2018.
The National Assembly, which joined the proceedings as a civil complainant, requested a total fine of 1.08 million euros ($ 1.13 million) which correspond to the wages and social charges which have been paid.
François, formerly the youngest legislator of the National Assembly at the age of 27, was Prime Minister under President Nicolas Sarkozy from 2007 to 2012.
He was also minister under two previous presidents, François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac.
François left French politics in 2017 and now works for an asset management company.