PARIS: A Paris court on Monday sentenced French former prime minister Francois Fillon to five years in prison, three suspended, for orchestrating a fake job for his wife in a scandal that cost him his shot at the presidency in 2017.
Fillon's wife Penelope was given a suspended three-year sentence for participating in the scheme that saw her paid over one million euros in public funds over a 15-year period.
The case was widely seen as a test of whether French politicians would now be held to account after decades of getting off lightly on charges of nepotism or financial misconduct.
Fillon and his wife were also ordered to pay fines of 375,000 euros ($423,000) each.
Presiding judge Nathalie Gavarino said Fillon, 66, pursued "personal enrichment" over the common good and "contributed to an erosion of public trust" in elected leaders.
A third defendant, Marc Joulaud - who stood in for Fillon in parliament when he was a cabinet minister and who also hired Penelope Fillon as an assistant - was given a suspended three-year sentence.
The three were ordered to collectively reimburse one million euros to the National Assembly, where Penelope supposedly worked as Fillon's parliamentary assistant from 1998 to 2013.
Facing two years behind bars, Fillon was allowed to leave the courthouse a free man, for now, after the couple's lawyers said they would appeal.
"Obviously, this ruling is not fair," Fillon's lawyer Antonin Levy said. The couple did not make any statement to dozens of journalists gathered as they left the courthouse.
The allegations that Fillon pilfered public coffers for years pummelled his image as an upright fiscal hawk promising to right the country's finances - and loomed large in the "yellow vest" anti-government protests that rocked the country in 2018-2019.
A newspaper report on the fake job surfaced in January 2017, just after Fillon clinched the nomination from his rightwing Republicans party for a presidential race he was widely tipped to win.
It later emerged Fillon had used public money to pay two of his children a combined 117,000 euros for sham work while he was a senator, before becoming premier in the government of then-president Nicolas Sarkozy.