Judges in France have filed charges against presidential candidate Francois Fillon as part of an investigation into the former prime minister’s alleged payment from tax-payer funds to family members for fake jobs.
Officials in the national financial prosecutor's office said on Tuesday that judges had filed the charges earlier in the day.
Fillon had earlier said he would appear before judges on Wednesday but the decision was apparently moved up six weeks before the conservative politician plans to contest the first round of the presidential election, which will fall on April 23.
Prosecutors said the charges against Fillon included improper declaration of assets, misusing public funds, receiving money from the misuse of public funds and complicity in misusing those funds.
Filing preliminary charges in the French law would mean that judges are seeking more time to investigate the suspected wrongdoing and then decide whether to send the case to trial. In Fillon's case, it also means that magistrates have strong reasons to believe he had indeed paid members of the family for fake jobs in the parliament when he was a lawmaker.
Media reports say Fillon paid generously to his wife and children for works that were never performed. Family members say they did perform the jobs.
Fillon has repeatedly said he did not do anything wrong as he was legally entitled to hiring his relatives. He initially said he would leave the presidential race if charges were brought against him. However, he later said campaigning would continue.
"There is only one thing that exists in a democracy: it's the people's will. The French will choose," he said during a news conference on Monday, adding that there was no plan B in the Republican Party to replace him.
The wrongdoing allegations have badly hit Fillon's image as a front-runner in the presidential campaign. He has lost his place in polls to Emmanuel Macron, the independent centrist candidate. Far-right leader Marine Le Pen also aspires to reach the second round of the votes on May 7.