Ex-French prime minister’s wife is key figure in fraud trial

France's former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, left, and his wife Penelope, arrive at the Paris courthouse, in Paris, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. He could have been president of France. Instead, former Prime Minister Francois Fillon is going on trial to face fraud charges after he used public funds to richly pay his wife and children for work they allegedly never performed. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
France's former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, left, and his wife Penelope, arrive at the Paris courthouse, in Paris, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. He could have been president of France. Instead, former Prime Minister Francois Fillon is going on trial to face fraud charges after he used public funds to richly pay his wife and children for work they allegedly never performed. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

PARIS – For over three decades, Penelope Fillon was known as the very discreet wife of a prominent politician who became France’s prime minister. She is now at center stage of a fraud trial in Paris for well-paid, public-funded jobs as an aide to her husband that she allegedly did not perform.

The Fillons have denied wrongdoing.

The trial ending Wednesday is set to determine whether Penelope Fillon's activities were in the traditional role of an elected official’s partner — or involved actual paid work.

The scandal, revealed by the French press just three months before the country's 2017 presidential election, cost ex-Prime Minister Francois Fillon his reputation. Once the front-runner, Fillon sunk to third place in the presidential race won by Emmanuel Macron.

The long-standing practice of French politicians hiring family members for well-paid public jobs while other French workers were struggling created a backlash of public anger against France's political elite.

Prosecutors lashed out at what they called “fraudulent, systematic practices." They requested five years in prison, including a three-year suspended sentence, and a 375,000 euro ($417,870) fine against Francois Fillon, and a three-year suspended sentence and the same fine against his wife.

The verdict will be rendered on June 29.

Fillon has been charged with the misuse of public funds, receiving money from the misuse of public funds and the misappropriation of company assets. His wife has been charged mostly as an accomplice.