Francois Fillon. Image Source: IANS News

Paris, Feb 24 : Former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon has appeared in court for his role in a "fake jobs" scandal.

He is accused of paying his Welsh wife Penelope hundreds of thousands of euros for work she allegedly never did when employed as his assistant.

Both appeared on Monday, but made no statement, the BBC reported. They deny the allegations.

Though the trial was due to start on Monday, the court delayed it until Wednesday, as there is currently a lawyers' strike in France.

The scandal -- dubbed PenelopeGate -- began in 2017, when Fillon seemed favourite to win the presidency.

The centre-right candidate's ratings plummeted after the allegations. Centrist Emmanuel Macron eventually won the election against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

Fillon could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted. The trial is scheduled to run until March 11.

Fillon has been in politics for decades. After serving as an MP, Senator, and in a number of ministerial roles, he became France's prime minister between 2007 and 2012 under former President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Ahead of the 2017 presidential election, he won the centre-right Republican party's presidential primary, and in January 2017 was the clear frontrunner in the polls.

But his bid for the top job fell apart later that month.

Le Canard Enchaine, a satirical magazine, alleged that Penelope Fillon - formally employed as his parliamentary assistant for about six years in the 1990s and 2000s - never actually did her job. What's more, she was paid €831,400 (£697,000; $900,000) in the role.

Fillon denied the allegations. He said his opponents were trying to sabotage his campaign through his wife, and vowed to press on with the election.

As the scandal grew he apologised "profusely" for employing family members, saying that though legal the practice had caused "mistrust".

But his poll ratings dropped sharply. He came third in the first round of voting, missing out on the second-round run off.

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