How Russia obtained former French PM Fillon’s loyalty – confidential papers

How did François Fillon get two board seats in two significant Russian oil and gas businesses after leaving the French political scene? The FranceInfo investigative reportage describes how the former French prime minister and presidential contender would have asked the Russian government for assistance.

FranceInfo obtained papers testifying on secret alliances and relationships for their research on Vladimir Putin’s networks in France. Confidential papers were shared by the Dossier Center, a nonprofit organization founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oligarch and longtime adversary of Putin’s government. His London-based team has established relationships with the Russian government.

Fillon met Gazprom head on Nord Stream 2 project

These records include one from the Russian embassy in Paris, dated February 2019. It refers to a demand made by Francois Fillon, French prime minister at that time. He requested a meeting with the head of the Russian gas giant Gazprom after speaking with Putin. He “asks for help to arrange a meeting with Alexei Miller, with whom he would like to discuss the following topics: a project of sponsoring a soccer team, mentioned with Vladimir Putin in December, and Nord Stream 2”, the statement reads.

The contentious Nord Stream 2 project, a massive gas pipeline that aims to deliver Russian gas to Europe without going through Ukraine, was reaching a pivotal point. According to the NGO Dossier Center, “The Russians required the support of European leaders to promote the project.” François Fillon fit this role well, he was the person who showed up at the appropriate time in this situation.

In order to conduct business with Europe and have an impact on political life, he “has influence, he knows France from the inside, and he has contacts.” He had three meetings with Alexei Miller, the influential head of Gazprom, a few months following his encounter with Putin.

Fillon received two posts in Russian oil companies

If François Fillon received money compensation from Gazprom is unknown. However, he was presented with two board positions in Russia in 2021: one at the petrochemical business Sibur and the other at the oil company Zarubezhneft. These two posts are expected to offer at least 80,000 euros in annual compensation.

Former Russian ambassador to France confirms high value of Fillon’s posts in Russian companies

Alexander Orlov, a former Russian ambassador to France, acknowledges that these are wonderful positions for which a counterpart is expected to exercise influence “in the right direction” and develop commercial ties. François Fillon declined to respond to FranceInfo’s correspondent’s inquiries about this matter.

Read also: French politicians targeted by Russia-related corruption investigations

Fillon resigned from Russian companies

Faced with widespread outrage four days after the start of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, he resigned from the boards of directors of the two Russian companies, claiming that he had not touched any of the promised money.

In a column for the French weekly publication Le Journal du Dimanche, Fillon stated, “This is a collective failure, but in the hierarchy of responsibility, Vladimir Putin alone is guilty of having initiated an avoidable conflict.”

Fillon’s scandalous declarations on Russia’s war against Ukraine

So, Francois Fillon  did receive his Russian gifts. But to understand if he was biased, and exercised influence in exchange, we need to look at some of his recent declarations in regards to the war between Russia and Ukraine. Former Prime Minister drew criticism on February 24, after deploring “the refusal of the West” to listen to Russian demands on NATO. 

“For ten years, I have been warning against the refusal of the West to take into account Russian demands on the expansion of Nato. This attitude leads today to a dangerous confrontation that could have been avoided,” said François Fillon, just moments after Vladimir Putin’s announcement on the invasion of Ukraine. So, on the day when Putin started a cruel war against a sovereign Ukraine, Fillon was blaming NATO. 

The reaction of French politicians was imminent. “François Fillon is an employee of Vladimir Putin” and “we will have to put an end to all these betrayals,” said on BFM-TV the MEP Raphael Glucksmann. The deputy of La République en marche Yaël Braun-Pivet, president of the law commission of the National Assembly, said on Twitter that “no, there is no but. The war is the fact of whoever decides to fight it. This half-condemnation does not honor you”. The environmentalist politician, Yannick Jadot, had called François Fillon “an ally of a dictator who is waging war in Europe.

So, Francois Fillon repeats the statements that you would often hear on Russian propaganda media. Is it a coincidence? 

It’s clear that Russia obtains loyalty from European politicians with the help of lucrative positions in its gas and oil companies. Other former prominent European officials, such as former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in 2017 and former Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl in June 2021, have served on the boards of Russian energy companies in recent years.

Fillon was found guilty over fake job for his wife in his public office

In 2020, a court convicted Fillon guilty of a scheme in which he reportedly paid his wife roughly 1 million euros over several years for minimal assistance with his parliamentary duties.

The scandal ruined Fillon’s presidential campaign in 2017. Fillon is appealing the convictions together with his wife, who was given a suspended sentence. During the appeals process, he is still free.

Read also: Subsea cables cut in French waters, Russian sabotage suspected

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