* Fillon says Socialist government behind media leaks
* Says aim is to eliminate the Right in the election
* Socialist party call on him to pull out of election race
(Releads with Fillon broadside against Socialist government)
By Richard Balmforth
PARIS, March 22 Right-wing presidential
candidate Francois Fillon, hit by new damaging disclosures,
accused the Socialist government on Wednesday of organising a
campaign of media leaks about his financial affairs to
neutralise him as a force in the election.
Still unable to reverse dismal approval ratings ahead of the
first round of voting on April 23, Fillon went on the offensive
to denounce weekly "organised leaks" which he said violated the
confidentiality of the judicial investigation of his affairs.
"Who are organising these? State services ...," he told
"And, oddly enough, the Socialist party, Mr. Macron and Mr.
Hollande pounce on these pseudo-revelations," he said, referring
to election frontrunner Emmanuel Macron and Socialist President
The 63-year-old former prime minister was the leader in the
race for the Elysee and seemed comfortably on course late last
year to recover power for the centre-right The Republicans party
after five years of Socialist rule.
That was until media reports in late January sent his
ratings tumbling by disclosing he had paid his wife Penelope and
two children hundreds of thousands of euros of public funds for
work they may not have carried out.
He is now under formal investigation for misappropriation of
public funds and a source close to the inquiry said on Tuesday
that the investigation was being broadened to include suspicion
that false documents had been presented to justify the
employment of his family members.
A lawyer for Fillon's British-born wife denied this
allegation. "Since Penelope Fillon's past activities on behalf
of her husband were real, all the documents pertaining to this
work are also unquestionably genuine," lawyer Pierre
Cornut-Gentille said in a statement.
Additionally, Le Canard enchaine - the newspaper that first
disclosed the "Penelope-gate" scandal - reported on Wednesday
that a Lebanese billionaire paid a company owned by Fillon
$50,000 in 2015 to arrange introductions to Russian President
Vladimir Putin and Total CEO Patrick Pouyanne. This
was dismissed by the Kremlin as 'fake news'.
"The truth is that the Left is incapable of winning this
election and would only have a chance of succeeding if there was
no adversary from the Right. That will not happen," Fillon told
SOCIALISTS CALL TO QUIT
Earlier, the Socialist party, whose candidate Benoit Hamon
is faring even worse than Fillon and trails badly in fifth place
in opinion polls, called on the conservative candidate to pull
"The list of actions for which you are being reproached is
long, too long, much too long. And it is getting longer all the
time," the party said in a statement. "We are asking you
expressly to withdraw from the presidential election."
This was seized on by the Fillon camp as proof that the
Socialists were behind attempts to discredit him.
Every time Fillon re-asserted himself in the public eye, new
"pseudo-revelations" emerged to damage him, it said in a
statement. "The chronology is too perfect to be mere chance."
An Opinionway poll published on Wednesday showed Fillon
still trailing in third place in the first round of voting - a
position which will mean he is eliminated from the May 7 runoff
between Macron and far right leader Marine Le Pen.
Polls see Macron, an independent centrist who was economy
minister in an Hollande government for two years until August
2016, going on to beat Le Pen comfortably in the runoff by
taking up to two thirds of the vote.
Fillon has consistently denied wrongdoing since the scandal
broke in late January, though he has admitted errors of
judgment, and fought off rebellions in his party's ranks to
maintain his bid for the Elysee.
But he is suffering from comparison now with the Socialist
interior minister, Bruno le Roux.
Le Roux stepped down immediately on Tuesday over similar
payments to members of his family within 24 hours of the media
allegations surfacing - conduct which Fillon's rivals are
touting as honourable alongside Fillon's intransigence.
Fillon also suddenly faced criticism from an influential
member of his The Republicans party over his radical economic
Speaking out against Fillon's proposal to axe 500,000 public
sector jobs, party grandee Francois Baroin said: "The state
cannot force local authorities to reduce the workforce as
proposed. I am telling Francois Fillon: 'Watch out. Danger
($1 = 0.9270 euros)
(Reporting by Brian Love, Chine Labbe, Yann Le Guernigou,
Michel Rose; Editing by Adrian Croft)