Fillon Placed Under Probe

Polls have consistently shown Le Pen being well beaten in the second round, whether facing off against Fillon or Macron, as voters unite against the controversial populist leader of the National Front.

A top contender in a French presidential election never has reached such a critical step in a criminal investigation, yet Fillon has vowed to keep campaigning less than six weeks before the contest's first round.

Le Parisien newspaper reported that investigators were now also looking at payments to his daughter Marie and son Charles for assistance work, and money which they in turn sent back to an account he jointly holds with his wife.

A source told France's 20 Minutes outlet that the center-right French presidential candidate was charged with the embezzlement of public funds, the breaching of reporting obligations to the High Authority for transparency in public life (HATVP), an anti-corruption body, and the concealment and complicity in the abuse of power.

Once a frontrunner seen as a shoo-in for the presidency, Fillon has seen his ratings tumble under the impact of the scandal, known as Penelope-gate, after his wife's name. He has denied all wrongdoing, saying that his wife worked from his home in the Sarthe region of northern France during his 40-year political career.

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Mr Fillon's family members insist they did the work for which they were generously paid.

Mr Fillon initially said he would quit the presidential race if he were charged.

This is the moment that Francois Fillon feared, but which he knew was probably coming, the BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris reports.

Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron is also linked to a preliminary investigation, opened by prosecutors on Tuesday, into suspected favoritism surrounding a 2016 event in Las Vegas when jhe was economy minister.

Mr Fillon called it "unacceptable" and said he could not "tolerate the party spreading caricatures that use the codes of anti-Semitic propaganda".

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"Those who don't respect the laws of the Republic should not be allowed to run".

Chatillon already faces trial, along with two FN officials, over the party's 2012 general election campaign.

Either way the probe is unlikely to be resolved before the French presidential election, the first round of which is on April 23rd.

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