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France's Fillon under scrutiny over cash for bespoke suits
[PARIS] Conservative French presidential hopeful Francois Fillon, already dogged by a fake jobs scandal, on Sunday defiantly admitted a "friend" had paid for his bespoke suits costing thousands of euros after coming under fresh scrutiny following another media expose.
Since 2012, Mr Fillon has received clothing worth nearly 48,500 euros (S$73,150) furnished by jet-set tailor Arnys, the weekly Journal du Dimanche (JDD) said in a report denounced by Mr Fillon's spokesman as part of a "gutter campaign" against the candidate.
The report came just six weeks ahead of the first round of the presidential election and with Mr Fillon, 63, facing charges over the fake jobs scandal.
Of the total sum for the suits, 35,500 euros was paid in cash, the paper said, adding that a young woman generally delivered the money to the chic Parisian tailor that has catered to the likes of Andy Warhol and Yves Saint Laurent.
An order for two suits completed in early February however was paid for by cheque, signed by a "generous friend" who asked to remain anonymous, the paper said.
"I paid at the request of Francois Fillon," JDD quoted the cheque's signatory as saying, adding: "by the way, without receiving the slightest thanks since then."
Mr Fillon on late Sunday confirmed the report, telling Les Echos business daily: "A friend gave me the suits in late February. So what?
"I see that my private life is being put under all sorts of scrutiny, and this treatment is reserved for me. I don't know who is trying to harm me," he said.
The former prime minister's spokesman Luc Chatel reacted angrily to the report.
"How far are they going to take this?" he said. "Are they going to check whether his grandmother had a Russian loan, and if he declared it in his assets statement?" Mr Chatel fumed on French radio.
A member of Fillon's entourage dismissed as "outlandish" JDD's assertion that cash payments were made on Mr Fillon's behalf for other Arnys clothing.
"No serious tailor's shop would accept cash payments in such amounts," he said.
The store itself refused to answer queries from the JDD.
Mr Fillon's campaign went into a tailspin in January when the satirical and investigative French weekly Le Canard Enchaine revealed that he had arranged for allegedly fake parliamentary jobs for his wife Penelope worth hundreds of thousands of euros, paid from public funds.
Mr Fillon, who had presented himself as a sleaze-free candidate, was once the frontrunner to become France's next president in May.
But he has had to battle to stay in the race because of the fake jobs revelations.
He is now in third place behind 39-year-old centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen, 48, who are neck-and-neck heading into the April 23 first round.
Mr Macron is now tipped to win the decisive May 7 runoff for the presidency in the eurozone's second biggest economy.
Last week the Canard Enchaine came out with a new revelation, that Fillon had received an interest-free, undeclared loan of 50,000 euros from a billionaire friend.
The candidate "did not deem it necessary" to report the loan to a state transparency watchdog, the paper said.
The billionaire, Marc Ladreit de Lacharriere, was awarded France's top civilian honour, the Grand Croix of the Legion of Honour, in 2011 when Fillon was prime minister.
Ladreit de Lacharriere, CEO of the financial services holding company Fimalac, owns the literary magazine Revue des Deux Mondes, the centre of a separate revelation by the Canard Enchaine.
The publication paid Penelope Fillon some 100,000 euros in 2012-13 but there is little evidence of her work, the Canard reported.