Kremlin Says Report Of Fillon’s Ties To Putin Is “Fake News”
The campaign to denigrate French presidential candidate Republican Francois Fillon took a detour into familiar territory yesterday when the satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaine published details of his financial ties to the Russian government and prosecutors broadened a probe into his affairs.
On Tuesday, Le Canard reported that the 63-year-old former prime minister earned 50,000 euros ($54,000) for setting up a meeting between a Lebanese billionaire, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Total SA Chief Executive Officer Patrick Pouyanne in 2015, amounts which pale in comparison to the “donations” the Clinton Foundation received for similar arrangements, which were mostly ignored by the mainstream press. Separately, Le Monde newspaper reported that prosecutors have asked judges to widen a criminal probe stemming from an earlier report in Le Canard to include charges of fraud, forgery and falsification of records, Bloomberg reports
Fillon has often referred to Russia as a “great nation” in his presidential campaign and didn’t see the former Soviet Union as a threat to Europe. Staffing his campaign team with two longtime advisers – Jean de Boishue and Igor Mitrovanov – descended from Russians exiled after the 1917 revolution, Fillon has called on France to work with Russia, even in Syria and Ukraine. That relationship was thrown into a harsher light on Tuesday with Le Canard’s report that Fillon’s advisory firm, 2F, was paid by Dubai-based Future Pipe Industries Group Ltd. to set up a meeting between its director, Lebanese billionaire Fouad Makhzoumi, Putin and Pouyanne at an annual economic conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, in June 2015.
According to the contract, Fillon would help Makhzoumi access influential figures and policy makers in Russia, Algeria, Gabon, and Ivory Coast as well as at French companies, the weekly newspaper reported. Calls to Makhzoumi’s offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi weren’t answered. Staff at the company’s Paris office weren’t able to comment. A Total spokesman said in a text message that it’s possible that Pouyanne met with Makhzoumi at the St. Petersburg forum, where he usually meets dozens of people.
While photographs published by Russia’s official news agency, RIA Novosti, show Putin and Fillon meeting with Makhzoumi, Russia denied that Fillon had played any role in organizing the meetings.
Adding to his defense, Fillon aide Bruno Retailleau said in an interview on RTL radio Wednesday that the candidate’s work was “absolutely legal” and had been reviewed by officials at the National Assembly. “Politicians have a network,” he said. The prosecutor’s office didn’t respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment.
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