March 14 (UPI) -- French presidential candidate Francois Fillon was placed under formal investigation in a fake jobs scandal, prosecutors announced Tuesday.
Fillon, 63, the candidate of the center-right Republican Party and, until recently, a favorite to win the April and May elections, is being investigated for diverting public funds, complicity in misdirecting funds and not fully declaring assets, prosecutors said. He is at the center of a scandal in which it is alleged that, while a member of Parliament, he arranged a no-show job for his wife, and positions as government lawyers for his two children, although they were both law students at the time.
The French weekly newspaper Le Canard Enchaine reported six weeks ago that Fillon's wife was paid more than $700,000 for a fake parliamentary assistant position, over 15 years, the British newspaper The Guardian said Tuesday.
Fillon has denied breaking the law, and prior to the campaign said it would be inconceivable for a candidate to remain in a presidential campaign under his current circumstances. He has also refused to step down as a candidate, and current polls show he could be eliminated in first-round balloting in late April.
Formal investigation, under French law, indicates "serious or consistent evidence" of involvement in a crime. It is a step toward a trial, although investigations can be dropped before continuing to court proceedings.