A meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Lebanese billionaire and the chief executive of Total has dealt another major blow to the electoral chances of François Fillon after reports emerged that the French Presidential hopeful was paid 50,000 dollars for facilitating the rendezvous, reports CNBC.
Allegations published Wednesday by the Canard Enchaîné suggest that the former French prime minister used his contacts to facilitate two meetings for Fouad Makhzoumi, the Lebanese chief executive of Future Pipe Industries, in 2015 – one with Putin and another with Total's Patrick Pouyanné.
The meetings were reportedly set up via Fillon's consultancy firm 2F Conseil and saw Makhzoumi pay 50,000 dollars to meet with Putin during the St Petersburg International Economic Forum two years ago.
The Fillon campaign was not immediately available for comment but the Kremlin brandished the accusations as "fake news."
"It is what in English we call 'fake news'," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
The French Conservative candidate was trailing behind front-runners centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right Marine Le Pen after a TV debate aired Monday, however the new revelations are likely to further hurt his chances of securing office when France goes to the polls to elect its new leader in May.
His campaign has been marred by allegations, also from the French satirical newspaper, which claim that he paid his wife and children almost 1 million euros ($920,000) in public funds for parliamentary jobs they did not complete. His is currently under formal investigation.
On Tuesday, French interior minister Bruno Le Roux announced his resignation over a related fake job scandal, in which he was accused of paying his two daughters for work they did not undertake.