(PARIS) — French presidential candidate Francois Fillon said Thursday he would step out of the race if he were given preliminary charges by national financial prosecutors investigating an allegedly fake job held by his wife.
Fillon, speaking on French channel TF1, said there was nothing improper or illegal about his employing his wife, Penelope, as his parliamentary aide for years.
He said "her work was real" and that he will provide investigators with "all necessary proof." But he said he wouldn't submit to being tried in the media.
"Only one thing would prevent me from being a candidate: it's if my honor was harmed, if I were given preliminary charges," Fillon, one of the top contenders in the French presidential election this spring, said.
"I have always said that I wouldn't be able to be a candidate for the presidential election if there was evidence that I had broken the law. This is not the case," he said.
It's not illegal for French legislators to hire their relatives as long as they are genuinely employed.
The conservative hopeful offered examples of the kinds of work he said his wife did as is aide during the late 1990s and 2000s. He said she corrected his speeches, received "countless" people who wanted to see him, represented him at events and meetings and summarized the news for him.
The job of parliamentary aide is not a "standardized job, which meets specific rules," he said.
Fillon denounced opponents who he said are attacking his wife to reach damage him less than three months before the first round of the presidential election.
"I will defend her, I love her, I will protect her," he said.
France's financial prosecutors opened a preliminary probe on Wednesday into suspected embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds after Le Canard Enchaine newspaper reported that Fillon's wife was paid about 500,000 euros ($537,000) in public funds for a job she allegedly didn't do.
As the conservative nominee, Fillon, a former prime minister, has been championing transparency and deep cuts in the ranks of civil servants to lower government spending. Early opinion polls suggest that he and far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen could advance to the second round of the April-May election.