PARIS: A French appeals court on Monday (May 9) upheld former Prime Minister Francois Fillon’s conviction for embezzling public funds, but cut a year off his prison term.
Fillon was sentenced in 2020 to five years in jail, three of them suspended, for paying his wife about 1 million euros of public money for minimal work as his parliamentary assistant – a scandal that ended his presidential ambitions.
The appeals court changed the sentence to four years in jail, three of them suspended, a court official said.
Fillon has served no time in prison to date as his sentence was not enforced while his appeal was pending.
But he is unlikely to spend any time behind bars in a country where short sentences for white collar crimes are often commuted to detention at home with an electronic tag.
His lawyers said he would appeal Monday’s verdict at the Cour de Cassation, France’s highest appeal court, which would not rule on the case itself but only on whether judicial and legal procedures were respected at earlier rulings.
They said that besides procedural issues, there were also major questions about the separation of powers in the case between judiciary, government and parliament.
“We are not saying that we suspect earlier rulings were politically motivated, but it takes strength from an appeals court to overrule a lower court … Earlier rulings were so serious that they impacted French political life. That is what we hope the Cour de Cassation will consider,” Fillon’s lawyer Antonin Levy said on franceinfo radio.
When the scandal broke, Fillon denounced what he called a campaign of dirty tricks and denied having done anything illegal, though he later acknowledged making an error of judgment.
The former conservative politician, who since his failed 2017 presidential bid has worked in the financial sector, has faced fresh criticism for working for two Russian oil firms.
Shortly after the start of the Ukraine war in late February, Fillon said that in such conditions, he could not continue being a member of the boards of Russian state-controlled oil company Zarubezhneft and petrochemical company Sibur.