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Francois Fillon, former French Prime Minister, member of the Republicans political party and 2017 presidential election candidate of the French centre-right delivers a speech at a campaign rally in Biarritz, France March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau(reuters_tickers)
PARIS (Reuters) - It is "extremely likely" that French conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon has been the subject of wiretapping in the course of a judicial investigation, a campaign aide said on Sunday, in the latest accusations to be made by the Fillon camp against the authorities.
Fillon, a former front-runner who is now lagging in polls following a financial scandal, had earlier this week accused Socialist President Francois Hollande of orchestrating a plot against him.
In comments reminiscent of U.S. President Donald Trump's accusations against former president Barack Obama, Fillon and his team are now raising allegations of wiretapping.
"It's extremely likely," lawmaker Eric Ciotti, a close campaign aide, told Europe 1 radio and CNEWS television in an interview on Sunday, asked about reports that Fillon himself on Saturday said he was likely to have been wiretapped in the course of the probe into accusations of misuse of public funds.
"It wouldn't be illegal but that would, once more, be a democratic scandal," Ciotti said.
As with other accusations made by the Fillon camp in recent weeks, the wiretapping comments triggered some criticism.
"I don't believe at all that there is any orchestrated operation there," centrist Francois Bayrou, an ally of poll frontrunner Emmanuel Macron said.
"Conspiracy theories ... keep one from looking at one's own responsibilities," he said of Fillon.
Fillon, the 63-year-old former prime minister, had looked sure of winning the presidency after he won the candidate-selection contest in his Republicans party last November.
But he has fallen to third place - meaning he faces first-round elimination on April 23 - since media revelations prompted magistrates to open an inquiry into allegations that he paid his wife and children hundreds of thousands of euros of public money for work as parliamentary assistants they may not have done.
(Reporting by Jean-Baptiste Vey and Ingrid Melander; Editing by Greg Mahlich)