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Politics

The Scandal Engulfing This Candidate May Be The Most French Thing Ever

We can explain everything, we promise. Mostly.

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Hi there. This is François Fillon. He's the Republican candidate in France's presidential election, one of roughly a million — or, you know, five main — candidates.

Thierry Charlier / AFP / Getty Images

He is known for:

– his strong eyebrow game.

– his religious faith (he's Catholic)

– having been Nicolas Sarkozy's prime minister between 2007 and 2012.

– his debonair dad vibe (some have given him the nickname Droopy).

In November 2016, Fillon won the right-wing/center primary with 67% of the vote, defeating Alain Juppé, the mayor of Bordeaux and also a former prime minister.

Nicolas Tucat / AFP / Getty Images

Fillon's policy proposals were significantly more right-wing than Juppé's, including measures such as cracking down on immigration, increased state surveillance, cutting back the state, and relaxing sanctions against Russia.

Everything was looking good for Fillon at that point. He was ahead in the polls, and was predicted to comfortably defeat Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate, in the final round of voting.

But then on Jan. 26, 2017: PLOT TWIST. The newspaper Le Canard enchaîné revealed that Penelope Fillon, his Welsh-born wife, had been paid as his parliamentary assistant...despite having never worked at the National Assembly, France's version of Congress.

JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP / Getty Imagesv

She also apparently received 100,000 euros for veeeeery slightly contributing to high-society magazine La Revue des deux Mondes.

Now, you might not be aware, but this is something of a French speciality, on a level with good cheese and the Eiffel Tower. We call it emploi fictif, or fictional employment.

Valery Hache / AFP / Getty Images

Basically, politicians' loved ones routinely get paid for work they don't actually do.

Jacques Chirac — you know, our former president? He was convicted in an emploi fictif scandal.

Patrick Kovarik / AFP / Getty Images

Alain Juppé, the fellow I just told you about, was found guilty in the same affair. As was Patrick Stefanini, Fillon's campaign director.

Oh, and Le Pen, the far-right candidate everyone thinks is a shoo-in for the second round, is mired in an emploi fictif scandal of her own.

Sylvain Lefevre / Getty Images

She's accused of paying her bodyguard a parliamentary assistant's salary. Like I said, this is something that happens rather a lot in France.

ANYWAY. The night the story broke, Fillon appeared on TV. He said yes, his wife had worked for him. His kids had, too. But it was all perfectly legal.

Pierre Constant / AFP / Getty Images

BTW, through this we learned in passing that for doing the same job, Fillon's daughter was paid 27% less than his son. So on top of allegedly misusing public funds, Fillon appears to also have been practicing workplace discrimination.

He then uttered the immortal phrase: "There's only one thing that would prevent me from being a candidate, and that's...if I were charged."

Fillon: I'll quit the presidential race if they investigate meNarrator: But he did not.

Remember that bit. It will be important later.

The next day, Marianne published the two columns that Penelope Fillon had penned for La Revue des deux Mondes...for which she'd been paid 100,000 euros.

Over the following days, evidence mounted. A number of media outlets covered the revelations. Fillon was starting to feel the heat.

Twitter: @EricRatiarison

Mediapart alleged that Fillon had benefited embezzled Senate funds. BuzzFeed News published an investigation into Fillon's other parliamentary assistant, who also benefited from an emploi fictif arrangement.

On Feb. 2, Envoyé spécial broadcast an old interview with Penelope Fillon in which she claimed she had "never been her husband's assistant." Hmmmm...

"Bonjour Monsieur Fillon. Elise Lucet, pour #EnvoyeSpecial ..."

But Fillon still hadn't been placed under investigation, so his campaign continued.

Small point to consider: French presidents enjoy legal immunity.

So if Fillon becomes president, no one will be able to convict him of anything.

But then, Feb. 24: NEW DEVELOPMENT. The public prosecutor launched an official investigation. Dun-dun-DUNNNN.

FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP / Getty Images

Given the sluggish reputation of the French justice system, Fillon probably wasn't expecting things to move so quickly. But if prosecutors feel they have enough evidence, they absolutely will investigate.

At this point, the entire world expected Fillon to announce he was dropping out of the race. The evidence against him appeared overwhelming.

En ce moment sur @France2tv, « Tout le monde veut prendre sa place » ! 😂 #Fillon #TLMVPSP

Everyone started looking to potential replacements, such as Fillon lieutenant François Baroin and Juppé.

Fillon was due to attend the Salon de l'agriculture – another noble French tradition. Basically, it's a big room full of animals and farmers, where politicians by tradition must dutifully trudge for the sake of photo opportunities.

Thomas Samson / AFP / Getty Images

His team were already in place, surrounded by cows. But at the last minute — coup de théâtre! Fillon canceled his appearance, announcing he would hold a press conference later that day. But no one knew why.

*Actually the politician in this photo is Fillon's rival Emmanuel Macron, but that's another story. This is just to show you what goes down at the Salon de l'agriculture.

Live pictures from Fillon press conference.

So surely he was about to withdraw from the race, right?

JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP / Getty Images

But no! Instead, Fillon denounced what he said was a conspiracy against him, and vowed to fight on as a presidential candidate. He also announced a rally of his supporters, to take place a few days later.

And he wasn't the only one...

BuzzFeed France

In the space of a few days, Fillon lost more than 300 staff. It was so extraordinary, Libération created a counter to keep track of all the people abandoning Fillon.

The campaign group Young People for Fillon quit. So did his spokesperson. Then his campaign director quit as well.

March 5 brought the all-important supporters' rally. According to camp Fillon, at least 200,000 people turned up.

Jacques Demarthon / AFP / Getty Images

But according to Le Monde, it is physically impossible to fit that many people in the Place du Trocadéro. So the real figure was probably closer to 40,000.

Afterwards, Juppé, his former opponent, said he would make an announcement to the press, and people thought he might be declaring his own candidacy to replace Fillon.

J'ai préparé le coup au cas où #Presidentielle2017

But no, Juppé just said he had no intention of standing as a presidential candidate. He just wanted to state publicly that the Republican party would have to manage without him.

At this point, you’re no doubt asking yourself: but what about former president Nicolas Sarkozy? He’s still a thing, right?

Twitter: @Cabinet_Noir

Yep. And, well, he set up a meeting with Fillon and Juppé on March 6 (having previously announced he was quitting politics). He's still pulling some strings.

But yet another shock development: A top party official called on the Republicans to nominate Fillon's deputy François Baroin instead!!!

"J'appelle les élus à apporter leur parrainage @francoisbaroin. @FrancoisFillon possède déjà les siens et nous avons besoin d'une assurance"

Anaïs Bordages est en charge de la rubrique Buzz chez BuzzFeed France et travaille depuis Paris.

Contact Anais Bordages at anais.bordages@buzzfeed.com.

Luke Lewis is BuzzFeed's Head of European Growth and is based in London.

Contact Luke Lewis at luke.lewis@buzzfeed.com.

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