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article imagePricey suits for France's Fillon were 'friendly gift': lawyer

By AFP     Mar 17, 2017 in World

A French lawyer known for his close links to African leaders confirmed Friday that he bought suits for scandal-hit presidential candidate Francois Fillon worth 13,000 euros ($14,000), insisting they were a "simple gift from a friend".

Robert Bourgi said in a statement sent to AFP that there was neither "conflict of interest nor influence-peddling" involved in the gifting of the suits to Fillon, the onetime frontrunner in France's presidential election who has seen his campaign tarnished by corruption claims.

Le Monde newspaper reported that Bourgi, a wealthy Franco-Lebanese lawyer, ordered the bespoke suits for Fillon in December from luxury Parisian tailor Arnys and paid for them in February.

According to newspaper reports, the two suits were among clothing worth around 48,000 euros gifted to the rightwing former prime minister.

Fillon said on Monday that he was "perfectly within my rights to accept a suit from a friend, it's not forbidden," adding that it had "nothing to do with" politics.

Investigators are looking into whether Fillon violated rules requiring lawmakers to declare gifts, piling further legal woes on the candidate following allegations that his wife was paid hundreds of thousands of euros in tax payer money for a fake job as a parliamentary assistant.

He was charged this week with misuse of public funds over payments totalling 680,000 euros to his Welsh-born wife Penelope between 1986 and 2013.

Fillon was also charged over failing to declare to a state transparency watchdog a 2013 interest-free loan of 50,000 euros from a tycoon. He has since repaid the money.

Bourgi is one of the best known middlemen working between France and Africa, with close links to businessmen and political leaders in French-speaking countries, particularly in Gabon.

An ex-advisor to former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, he said in a 2011 newspaper interview that he had delivered cash on behalf of African leaders to former leader Jacques Chirac between 1997 and 2005.

Chirac denied the allegations and threatened to sue, but dropped the case in 2013.

A new poll on Friday by Ipsos Sopra Steria suggested Fillon was slipping further behind in the election, showing he would get 17.5 percent if the first round of the two-stage election -- scheduled for April 23 -- was held now.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen was shown with 27 percent and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron on 26 percent.

Polls show Macron easily beating Le Pen in a run-off vote on May 7.

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