Vice president of François Fillon’s centre-right Republican party asked members of his own camp to stop referring to ‘Penelopegate’ as a “plot” masterminded by France’s ruling Socialists and to focus instead on winning the election.
Laurent Wauquiez added the scandal-hit presidential candidate, under fire over payments to his wife for an alleged fake job, still had a “chance of winning power”.
He said: “We must stop saying that we are the victims of a plot and focus on telling voters that Mr Fillon is the one who will best defend the values of the right and the centre-right.”
The former Sarkozy supporter also launched a scathing attack on Mr Fillon’s closest rival, Emmanuel Macron, and said the centrist’s camp was “teeming with unabashed opportunists”.
In a separate interview with France Info radio earlier this week, Mr Wauquiez said it was “not his place” to tell voters that the outgoing Socialist government had been leading a smear campaign against his Mr Fillon in a bid to destroy his chances of being elected, and added that his job was to “help the right win the election”.
He said: “I want to help protect French values, cut unemployment and fight against radical communitarianism practices.”
Mr Fillon was accused of paying his wife hundreds of thousands of euros for a ‘bogus’ job as his parliamentary assistant in January, and charged with a string of fraud-related offences, including misuse of public funds, earlier this month.
His wife, Penelope, for her part, was charged with embezzlement, misappropriation of public funds and aggravated fraud on Tuesday evening.