Francois Fillon’s campaign for the French presidency faces new uncertainty after he abruptly cancelled a campaign stop at the country’s premier farm fair and an investigation intensified into alleged fake parliamentary jobs for his family.
Mr Fillon’s campaign team gave no reason for the sudden cancellation of Wednesday’s appearance at the Salon d’Agriculture, but said he is expected to speak at his campaign headquarters at midday.
Financial prosecutor Eliane Houlette denied reports that Mr Fillon’s wife Penelope, from Abergavenny in Wales, was taken in for questioning on Wednesday in the jobs investigation.
She would not comment on reports that the Fillons received a summons on Wednesday for questioning later this month.
Mr Fillon was once the front-runner in the race for the April-May two-round election but his poll ratings have slid amid the investigation, which he calls an unfounded smear campaign.
The financial prosecutor’s office pushed the case to a higher level on Friday, paving the way for possible charges against Mr Fillon.
Mr Fillon initially said he would withdraw from the race if he was charged but later said he was determined to let the voters decide his fate.
His conservative Republicans party has no clear Plan B for his possible pullout.
The runner-up in the party’s first-ever primary, the more centre-leaning Alain Juppe, has said he would not want to run in Mr Fillon’s place.
Mr Fillon has also held talks in recent weeks with former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who came third in the conservative primary.
After a preliminary investigation opened on January 25, the financial prosecutor’s office decided on Friday to launch a formal judicial inquiry, turning it over to investigating judges who can bring charges or throw the case out.
No-one has been named in the judicial investigation on a list of charges, including misappropriation of public funds, abuse of public funds and influence trafficking.
Investigative weekly Le Canard Enchaine reported that payments were made to Mrs Fillon and two of the couple’s five children that totalled more than one million euro (£850,000) over many years.
Campaign staffers and members of his Republicans party were at the fair waiting for Mr Fillon when the last-minute cancellation was announced.
Protesters have been at Mr Fillon’s recent campaign events for the election, in which far-right candidate Marine Le Pen is expected to make a strong showing.