The Kremlin denied on Wednesday that France's scandal-hit conservative presidential candidate, Francois Fillon, had arranged a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin for Lebanese pipeline magnate Fouad Makhzoumi in 2015.
French satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaine had alleged that Fillon set up the meeting after his consultancy firm signed a 50,000-dollar contract to help Makhzoumi's Future Pipe Industries develop influential contacts in companies in Russia and elsewhere.
Fillon is already under formal judicial investigation over allegations, also first published by Le Canard Enchaine, that his wife drew a salary as his parliamentary assistant for years without actually working for him.
The Moscow-friendly former prime minister, whom Putin previous lauded as "a professional to a high extent," has dropped to third place in the polls since the claims about his wife's job surfaced in January.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was "rather absurd" to suggest any third party had organized Putin's meeting with Makhzoumi at the 2015 International Economic Forum in St Petersburg.
"A company that is present on our market certainly does not need any mediators for arranging a meeting with our president," Peskov said in comments carried by state news agency TASS.
Fillon's campaign coordinator, Bruno Retailleau, said the candidate had told him he never had any contract with the Russian state or any Russian company.
The French parliament's ethics commissioner "knew of a contract" signed by Fillon's consulting firm and "indicated there was no problem regarding conflicts of interest," Retailleau told RTL radio on Wednesday.