French presidential candidate Francois Fillon is officially under investigation for giving fake jobs to family members, a development his spokesman on Tuesday declared a "non-event."
Fillon, 63, stands accused of keeping his wife, Penelope, on the parliamentary payroll for years. Although many European legislators have been known to hire family members to work in their legislative offices, Fillon has come under suspicion because investigators have found no proof his wife actually worked.
There are also allegations that he improperly had his children employed in legislative positions.
The allegations came to light in January after reporting by the newspaper Le Canard Enchaine. Investigators say they see "serious and consistent indications" of improprieties by Fillon.
Penelope Fillon has fought back at the charges, saying she performed numerous duties, such as accompanying her husband to speaking engagements, dealing with emails and preparing notes and background information.
Penelope Fillon earned about 680,000 euros (730,600 dollars) during the course of 15 years while working as a legislative staff member, according to the documents.
They show that Penelope Fillon worked a total of 185 months between 1986 and 2013, both for her husband and for his successor in the legislature. Her average salary was 3,677 euros a month.
Judges had initially been expected to interview Fillon on Wednesday. Fillon actually made the announcement at the start of March that there would be a probe. Nonetheless, Fillon has said that he will remain the candidate of the centre-right Les Republicains.
"What happened today is a non-event," said Fillon spokesman Damien Abad.
If enough evidence is gathered, charges could be filed. Should Fillon win the presidency, he would enjoy immunity during his term of office. The charges would idle, only to be revived when he stepped down.
Fillon currently enjoys some limited immunity as a sitting lawmaker, though that is not sufficient to keep the investigation from proceeding.
The scandal has cost Fillon support in the coming elections, where the first round of voting set for April 23. He currently polls in third place, with liberal competitor Emmanuel Macron currently seen as the person with the best hope for defeating far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.
Le Pen has also been accused of misusing funds to pay supporters of her National Front party for work that was never performed at the European Parliament. She has so far refused to accept an invitation to appear before investigating judges.
Criminal probes against leading French politicians are nothing new, though it is unusual for investigations into people actively seeking the presidency. Fillon initially said he would withdraw from the race if a probe began, but has backed away from the promise, now calling the charges political intrigues.
Last year, Fillon made a point of distancing himself from former centre-right president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is also at the centre of multiple legal scandals.
"Who could imagine General de Gaulle for a moment presenting himself to investigators," asked Fillon while addressing an audience last year, referring to former president and national hero Charles de Gaulle.