REVIEW - Fillion's Case Shows Indications Of Political Plot Against France's Ex-Prime Minister

BRUSSELS (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 01st July, 2020) Former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon on Monday was sentenced to five years in prison, with three of them suspended, on charges related to the fake job scandal, and the harshness of the sentence was unique as all requests of the public prosecutor were fulfilled.

Fillon's wife, Penelope, was also found guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison. Besides, the former minister and his wife were fined 375,000 Euros ($422,990) each and should repay 1 million euros to the National Assembly, where Penelope held a position of a parliamentary aide and received a salary, but never actually worked there.

According to the case, Penelope was also supposed to work as a literary adviser for a publisher but never did.

Fillion's case is incredibly harsh, and sentencing the former prime minister to prison is rare for the Western world. Only Israel has seen similar examples, including the cases of Moshe Katsav, a former president who was sentenced to seven years in jail for sexual misconduct, and Ehud Olmert, ex-prime minister, who was sent to prison over a corruption scandal.

Fillion's sentencing shows that other issues might be connected to the trial and throw a dark shadow over the judicial system in France and its manipulation by politicians. The former French minister is set to appeal the court's decision.

The scandal around the former minister broke out in the middle of the 2017 presidential campaign in France and the charge resulted in Fillon losing his bid. Usually, such cases are dealt with at a reasonable pace, taking months to indict the suspect after a long inquiry.

Fillon's campaign took a negative turn when satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine reported that Penelope was paid for a fake job in parliament from 1998 to 2013. Prior to the scandal, Fillon had all chances to win the election and enjoyed more public support than current President Emmanuel Macron.

France's National Financial Prosecutor's office (PNF) launched Fillon's case on January 25, 2017, just 24 hours after Le Canard Enchaine's report was published.

"It is a huge conspiracy organized by professionals. If I am indicted, I will not be a candidate for the presidency of the republic," Fillon said in his defense, and he was indicted by the PNF a few days later.

The former minister, nonetheless, has refused to give up and withdraw his candidacy.

"I will not give in, I will not surrender, I will not withdraw. I will go to the end because it is not just me, it is the democracy which is challenged," Fillon said.

Fillon got 19.94 percent of the vote and was eliminated in the first round of 2017 election, while Macron and the president of the French right-wing National Rally party, Marine Le Pen, made it to the second round.

The court case then developed and the decision was announced on June 29, 2020, meaning that some sort of manipulation possibly took place.

The scandal around Fillon and his wife benefited one person Macron who became a president in 2017 to everyone's surprise.

In early June, Eliane Houlette, the just-retired Chief Prosecutor of the PNF, said during a hearing at Parliament's committee in charge of following the case that she was put under pressure to indict Fillon and speed up the procedure.

Houlette added that she was pressured by her boss, Paris Attorney-General Catherine Champrenault, during the Fillon investigation in early 2017. Champrenault has close ties and has worked with Segolene Royal, former wife of ex-President Francois Hollande. Moreover, the PNF was created a few years before that by Hollande and Christiane Taubira, a former minister of justice.

Politicians representing the right-wing party Les Republicains (LR), the National Rally (RN) and other parties have claimed that the case against Fillon was designed to end his presidential bid.

Houlette's revelation should pave a way to a big scandal and an inquiry into the matter, but the question of whether the issue would be tackled remains.

Earlier in June, Macron asked the Superior Council of Magistrates (CDM) to look into former top prosecutor's allegations and analyze if the PNF has been able to carry out its activities without pressure. The council can not ignore the allegations but has no capacity to investigate the CDM can only hear and give opinions, and its powers are limited.

For the dominant left-oriented press in France, the Fillon couple deserved what they got, and the justice system did nothing wrong. The court has refused to consider an extension of the inquiry into the case, simply because the court only looks at the crimes committed, not at the overall organization of the system, according to the left-wing media.

Meanwhile, Bruno Retailleau, the president of the Republicans parliamentary group in France's Senate, has condemned Fillon's sentence.

"I cannot help but think that the blast of this conviction is intended to cover the noise of revelations on a politically-dependent judicial procedure," Retailleau said, adding that Fillon was "condemned before the trial."

Eric Ciotti, the LR lawmaker for the Alpes-Maritimes department, also shares the same view.

"This is the terribly heavy conviction which is part of a scenario from which we knew the outcome. The sentence is too heavy," Ciotti said.

Jean-Paul Garaud, a lawmaker representing RN in the European Parliament and a former high magistrate, said that he has never seen cases like the one of Fillon.

"I have been an active magistrate for 35 years and I am still the president of the National Association of Magistrates, I have never seen similar facts. The judge's first reaction in the Fillon case should have been to re-open the proceedings and continue to investigate the case in the light of revelations about the pressure on the PNF," Garaud told Sputnik.

According to Garaud, the case should have been postponed when new details were revealed, but the judges have rejected such requests made by the lawyers.

"The trial will be reviewed on appeal, but the court of appeal will only be able to judge proven facts which are subject to a conviction at the first trial. Fillon may not go to jail, but this procedure does not seek to find out the truth about the very serious affair of the PNF," the European lawmaker said.

Garaud added that the case was political and violated all principles of independent justice. Moreover, he also said that Macron benefited from "the fall of Fillon."

"Macron solemnly asked the Superior Council of Magistrates to shed light on it. It is absolute cynicism. He was the beneficiary of the fall of Fillon, just before the presidential election, and he asked a court which has no power to investigate, to investigate. They will make a little report in a few months, which will soon be buried," the former high magistrate said, adding that PNF was "useless" and was engaged in "manipulating justice."

Meanwhile, Pierre Vercauteren, a professor at the Catholic University of Louvain-Mons in Brussels, said that the judiciary in France was truly independent from the mid-1940s up until the early 1980s when Francois Mitterrand became the president.

"There has been an evolution since the years of [former French presidents] [Charles] De Gaulle, [Georges] Pompidou and [Valery] Giscard d'Estaing. There is an evolution of the media, an evolution towards more independence of justice, of political power ... This changed under President [Francois] Mitterrand ... What was overlooked in the past has become unacceptable today," Vercauteren told Sputnik.

According to the professor, Fillon's case as well as the case of ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is suspected of bribing a judge for confidential information about an investigation into alleged illegal financing of his 2007 presidential campaign and will face a trial in October, show that "the wall between politics and justice has again become porous."

Vercauteren also wished that the "investigation opened by" the Superior Council of Magistrates into Fillon's case will show "the possible dysfunctions" of the justice system.