French President Emmanuel Macron attends a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, June 3, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau(reuters_tickers)
PARIS (Reuters) - France's prime minister said on Friday any minister put under formal investigation for improper conduct must resign, as allegations of misuse of funds hung over the new government two days before a parliamentary election where it seeks a majority.
Paris prosecutors were tipped off this week about alleged fake jobs at the European Parliament for officials from the centrist Modem party of Justice Minister Francois Bayrou, a legal source said on Thursday.
Modem is in alliance with the Republic on the Move (LREM)party of President Emmanuel Macron, whose first weeks in power have been tarnished by allegations of sleaze targeting his campaign director - now a minister.
"Here's my rule on this: A minister who is put under formal investigation resigns, that's all," Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Europe 1 radio when asked about the fate of ministers whose ethics were called into question.
Despite allegations targeting members of government, polls suggest that voters will hand Macron's party a crushing majority in the two-round parliamentary election on June 11 and 18.
A Ipsos Sopra Steria poll published on Friday found LREM was poised to win nearly a third of the vote in the first round on Sunday, setting it up to secure the biggest majority in nearly fifty years.
The poll projected LREM could win as much as 427 out of 577 seats, the biggest estimate in any poll so far.
Le Point magazine, which originally reported the tip-off about the Modem officials, said on Thursday a former party official had told prosecutors about receiving money from a budget allocated to EU parliamentarian Jean-Luc Bennahmias to pay assistants, without doing any work for the lawmaker.
Paris prosecutors already said in March they had opened a preliminary investigation into 19 French EU lawmakers, including senior Modem official Marielle De Sarnez, following a complaint from an opponent.
Sarnez, who is now junior minister for Europe affairs, has denied any wrongdoing in hiring an assistant for her work as a member of the European Parliament.
Richard Ferrand, who headed the campaign that swept Macron to power in a vote last May 7, is also fighting charges of improper financial dealings six years ago when he managed a health insurance fund in the Brittany region. He also denies any wrongdoing.
In France, the opening of a preliminary inquiry does not imply guilt. Prosecutors decide after such preliminary checks whether there are grounds for a full-scale, formal investigation or not.
(Reporting by Leigh Thomas; editing by Richard Lough)