PARIS - French financial prosecutors opened an inquiry on Tuesday after reports the interior minister paid his daughters from public funds for parliamentary work - an allegation similar to that which has damaged the election bid of right-wing candidate Francois Fillon.
The inquiry, prompted by a TV show in which minister Bruno Le Roux acknowledged having used parliamentary assistance funds to hire his two daughters as summer helpers, risks harming the image of a Socialist government near the end of its term.
The Quotidien TV show reported that his two daughters had been paid a combined total of 55,000 euros ($59,455.00).
The controversy follows similar press revelations in January that also brought a judicial investigation into hundreds of thousands of euros paid by conservative ex-prime minister Fillon, who has stayed in the race but has slid from frontrunner to also-ran in polls a month from the election.
Le Roux was summoned to the office of Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve on Tuesday, prompting media speculation that he could quit or be asked to quit the Socialist government of outgoing President Francois Hollande.
The announcement by the financial prosecutor's office came as allies of Fillon suggested that inaction by the judiciary in Le Roux's case would show that Fillon, who says he did nothing illegal, was the victim of judicial zeal.
He has fallen from first to third place in opinion polls since news of his payments to wife Penelope and children was disclosed by the newspaper Le Canard enchaine on Jan. 25.
"The article concerning Francois Fillon was published on a Wednesday morning and a few hours later, the national financial prosecutor opened a preliminary investigation," Bruno Retailleau, a Fillon ally, told France 2 TV on Tuesday.
"We will see how this one goes. It will be enlightening," he said of the Le Roux saga hours before the prosecutor's office announced that that case would be investigated too.
The Quotidien show reported on Monday that Le Roux had employed his two daughters, one when she was in secondary school and one just after leaving school, several times as parliamentary assistants during summer breaks.
"My daughters have worked for me ... notably during school holidays, but never on a permanent basis," Le Roux himself said to a reporter for the TV show when asked about the matter.
Le Roux, who was previously head of the Socialist Party group in the lower house of parliament, was appointed interior minister in December when Cazeneuve left the post to take up the job of prime minister.
Members of the National Assembly, France's lower house of parliament, are allowed to hire family as assistants and pay them from funds put at the disposal of all lawmakers.
At issue is the extent to which work was actually done for the money, which in Fillon's case was in the region of 800,000 euros. REUTERS