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Francois Fillon could be eliminated in French election first round as Marine Le Pen extends lead


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French presidential hopeful and long-time front-runner Francois Fillon could be eliminated in the first round of the election, according to new polling, following allegations he paid close to €1million - most of it allegedly taxpayer-funded - to his wife and children as parliamentary aides with little evidence of work. 

Less than three months before the vote, the right-wing candidate in the French elections is embroiled in a damaging scandal, which could yet dash his presidential hopes. Mr Fillon has denounced the allegations saying that the work was genuine.

Conservative Mr Fillon has dropped below 20 per cent in the polls, paving the way for Front National (FN) candidate Marine Le Pen to extend her lead. 

Far-right candidate Ms Le Pen is now leading the latest polls by Elabe and published in Les Echos with up to 27 per cent of voting intentions in the first round, which she is set to win. She is followed by independent candidate Emmanuel Macron with 23 per cent - who is expected to win the presidential race in a head-to head with Ms Le Pen in a second round. 

The allegations surrounding Mr Fillon’s use of public money to pay his wife and hire two of his children has crushed the 62-year-old's support from voters in one of the country’s most unpredictable elections yet. 

Satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaine revealed Mr Fillon’s Welsh wife Penelope Fillon was paid more than €830,000 between 1998 and 2007 for work the paper alleges she may never have done. The newspaper previously reported she earned €500,000. 

Ms Fillon earned the money for her job as her husband’s assistant and pocketed up to €7,000 a month besides from her work at a literary review owned by a family friend. New allegations by Le Canard Enchaine also claim two of the couple's five children earned €84,000 after being hired by their father as parliamentary aides. 

French anti-corruption investigators launched a preliminary probe into the allegations embezzlement and abuse of public funds and the couple were questioned separately on Monday. Mr Fillon’s parliamentary office was raided.  

Le Monde newspaper also claims the lack of transparency of Mr Fillon’s consultant firm, which paid him €750,000 between 2012 and 2015, could be the topic of the next explosive revelation. 

But Mr Fillon hit back at the allegations and accused the left of having orchestrated an "institutional coup d'etat". He called on his supporters to remain loyal to him and warned the results of the investigation will clear him. 

"Nobody will stop Francois Fillon and the right from being present in the first round of the presidential election and the second round of the presidential election," Mr Fillon's spokesman added.

Calls for Mr Fillon, a devout Christian, to quit the presidential race over the allegations are mounting and critics have already named the allegations as Penelope-gate. 

While FN candidate Ms Le Pen has reinforced her popularity in the polls, independent candidate Emmanuel Macron is also well-placed. 

The 39-year-old, who resigned from the Socialist government in August last year to launch his own movement En Marche! is trailing Ms Le Pen 

He is appealing to young generations from right and left because he appears not to have a defined place on the political spectrum, has never stood for elected office before. 

The left-wing candidate Benoit Hamon swept a victory at the Socialist Party (PS) primary election but in the latest polls he is sitting at 16 per cent. 

The first round of the French election is due to take place on 23 April. If no candidate wins more than 50 per cent of the votes, the two candidates with the most votes will battle it out in a second round.