In a new blow to conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon's campaign, France's financial prosecutor announced on Thursday she will not drop the inquiry on fake jobs allegations involving his wife and children.
Fillon's lawyers asked the financial prosecutor last week to close the inquiry, arguing that "the financial prosecutor has no jurisdiction and its inquiry is therefore illegal".
In a statement, the prosecutor said that "numerous elements collected [by investigators] do not, at this stage, permit the case to be dropped".
"Investigations will continue in strict compliance with the rules governing the Code of Criminal Procedure. The sole mission of the national financial prosecutor is to apply the law," read the statement by prosecutor Eliane Houlette.
Fillon's reaction came quickly as he told French daily Le Figaro that he would continue his campaign, saying the prosecutor's announcement "is only an act of communication that feeds the media's soap opera".
"There is nothing new, no prosecution, no indictment," Fillon said. "This does not affect my determination. I intend more than ever to carry out the project of recovery and modernization of France, in accordance with the mandate given to me by 4.4 million of our fellow citizens."
The former prime minister was referring to his win in the right-wing primary in November 2016, which drew a a high level of participation.
The investigative weekly Le Canard Enchaine claimed last month -- citing pay slips -- that Fillon had paid about €1 million ($1.08 million) out of public funds to his wife and two of his children as parliamentary assistant and consultants for legal expertise, respectively.
Although it is legal for French lawmakers to hire family members as parliamentary assistants, Le Canard Enchaine cast doubts over whether his wife Penelope actually performed aide duties.
According to French daily Le Monde, three scenarios are possible: either the case will be dropped, probed further by an investigating magistrate or sent straight to trial.
The procedure remains in the preliminary investigation phase for now.
Fillon had initially said he would drop out of the race should a formal investigation be opened.
Once a favorite, the 62-year-old former prime minister's popularity has dropped sharply during last weeks.
Former economy minister under current President Francois Hollande and centrist independent candidate Emmanuel Macron has surpassed Fillon in the polls.
Opinion polls suggest the far-right Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, will win the first round on April 23 but then will lose to either Fillon or Macron in a May 7 run-off. -