Prosecutors in France are investigating the Financial Affairs of François Fillon, the leading candidate in the upcoming French presidential election.

The investigation centers around €500,000 in payments to Penelope Fillon, his wife, over the course of 10 years when François was a member of parliament.

French MPs get €9,561 a month to hire aides. They are permitted to spend half of that allowance to hire family members. The family members are supposed to do some work, but no one can recall Penelope doing anything.

The rightwing French presidential candidate François Fillon is under pressure to explain the role of his British wife in his political operation after a newspaper alleged that she had been paid about €500,000 in eight years out of parliamentary funds.

Hiring family members is legal for French MPs and not against parliamentary rules as long as the person is genuinely employed. But the newspaper claimed it had been unable to track down anyone who had seen evidence of Penelope Fillon’s work.

The financial prosecutors’ office in Paris said in a statement on Wednesday it had opened an inquiry into the misuse of public funds.

The issue is all the more pressing for Fillon because, despite 35 years in politics including five years as prime minister, he is styling himself as an anti-system candidate, promoting himself as an honest, austere and “irreproachable” antidote to years of corruption scandals on the French right.

Citing pay slips, Le Canard Enchaîné claimed that Penelope Fillon, known as Penny, was paid from 1998 to 2002 from funds intended for parliamentary assistants.

From 2002 to 2007, when Fillon took up a cabinet post under then president Jacques Chirac, she became an assistant to Marc Joulaud, who carried out Fillon’s parliamentary duties in his place, earning €6,900-€7,900 a month.

A colleague of Joulaud’s told the paper: “ [I] never worked with [Penelope Fillon]. I have no information about this. I knew her only as a minister’s wife.”

The paper claimed that Penelope Fillon was again paid “for at least six months” in 2012 when Fillon, after serving as prime minister, left government following the defeat of rightwing president Nicolas Sarkozy.

François Fillon told a television interviewer in November last year that his wife stayed at home in Sarthe while he worked as a politician in Paris. “I didn’t have much time to see the first four [of five children] grow up because I was an MP,” he told an M6 TV show about politicians’ family lives. “It was 24/7, so basically they were raised by their mother.”

But he also said, without detailing to which time period he was referring: “She was very involved in the campaigns, handing out flyers and attending meetings with me.”

Nice Job, If You Can Get It

The only work that Penelope did that anyone can come up with was handing out flyers, apparently for the benefit of Fillon, not taxpayers. For this, Penelope received €500,000.

It’s a nice “job” if you can get it. But there’s a catch: Only family members can apply.

Polls show François Fillon is the leading candidate in upcoming April-May 2017 French presidential election. This may change things substantially.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock