France’s presidential race sank deeper into smear and sleaze on Tuesday after centrist Emmanuel Macron was forced to deny an extramarital affair and conservative Francois Fillon pressed on with efforts to salvage his reputation.
A slump in support for Fillon after accusations that he used taxpayers’ money to pay his wife for work she may not have done has propelled Macron into the top spot in opinion polls.
Late on Monday, Macron, a centrist former economy minister and ex-banker sought to kill rumors of a gay relationship outside his marriage to Brigitte Trogneux and push his campaign on.
“If you’re told I lead a double life with Mr. Gallet, it’s because my hologram has escaped,” Macron told supporters, referring to Radio France chief executive Mathieu Gallet.
A spokeswoman said the comments were “a clear denial of the rumors about his private life.”
It is Fillon’s campaign, though, that has been hit by scandal. On Monday he apologized for what he said was an error of judgment regarding the employment of family members, but said his wife’s work had been genuine and legal and vowed to fight on.
In a voter survey published on Tuesday, 65 percent of respondents polled after he made his comments said they still wanted him replaced as candidate of the center-right, a figure that will do little to soothe anxieties within his party, The Republicans.
Le Canard Enchaine, the satirical weekly that broke the scandal involving Fillon’s wife, Penelope, made new allegations on Tuesday. In addition to the roughly €1 million paid to her and two of the couple’s adult children, the newspaper said she had also received severance pay totaling €45,000 over the years.
Fillon, who said on Monday he was a victim of “media lynching,” hit back with a statement in which he contested the figures given by the weekly.
“Not only does le Canard Enchaine try to cast doubt, wrongly, over the calculation of the net average salary of my wife but it commits numerous errors in analyzing information on the pay slips,” he said.
“Only a desire to cause harm can explain this report which is full of lies,” he said.
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