French authorities are investigating allegations that conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon hired his wife for what was essentially a sham position.
He is accused of putting his wife, Penelope, on his parliamentary office payroll and paying her about $900,000 of taxpayer money over a 15-year period, according to the satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaine. Fillon also reportedly hired two of his children.
Hiring one's spouse is not illegal, reports NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, but "there's little evidence she actually worked."
"The growing scandal is damning for a candidate whose greatest asset was his integrity and Catholic family man image," Eleanor says. She adds that Fillon has denounced the allegations and is asking fellow conservatives to stay loyal to him.
The Guardian reported Tuesday that French police had searched the lower house of parliament and that Fillon and his wife were questioned separately for five hours on Monday by anti-corruption officers in connection with the allegation.
Fillon's support among French voters has faltered, based on a poll conducted Sunday and Monday, according to Reuters, which could hurt him in the rounds of voting in April and May, where he has been widely expected to face either far-right nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen or centrist Emmanuel Macron.
The same poll found support for Le Pen had grown, despite separate allegations of misconduct.
Le Pen has been asked to pay back more than $320,000 to the European Parliament because two of her aides in Brussels were actually working for her campaign in France. She has denied any wrongdoing.
Le Pen is a serious contender for the presidency, as NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reported in a story last week about the candidate and her National Front party platform:
"Though Le Pen calls Islamic fundamentalism one of the biggest dangers facing France, she says she is not anti-Muslim. Le Pen says there are two kinds of Islam and one is completely compatible with French values.
" 'Practicing Muslims, like Christians and Jews, have never posed a threat to French values,' she says. 'But there's another political fundamentalist, totalitarian Islam that wants sharia [Islamic] law over French law. And this is the one I will fight without mercy.'
"Le Pen has made no secret of her admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin. She says he always has the interests of Russia and the Russian people in mind, which is the way it should be. Le Pen supported Russia's annexation of Crimea after what she called a legitimate referendum."
Eleanor says the scandals, particularly the accusations against Fillon, have boosted the fortunes of Macron, President Francois Hollande's former economic minister who left the Socialist Party to run as an independent.