The Kremlin has sought to cast doubt on a report that conservative French presidential candidate Francois Fillon was paid 50,000 euros ($54,000) to arrange a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and a Lebanese oil magnate.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on March 22 that the report "reminds one of the latest fake -- what we call in English fake news." He did not issue a direct denial.
The weekly newspaper Le Canard Enchaine said Fillon's consulting company arranged the meeting between Putin and Lebanese businessman Fouad Makhzoumi at an economic forum in 2015.
"The president's meetings are organized according to protocol" and the Kremlin "doesn't need any intermediaries," Peskov said.
Fillon is under formal judicial investigation over allegations, also first published by Le Canard Enchaine, that his wife drew a large salary as his parliamentary assistant for years without actually working for him.
The Moscow-friendly former prime minister, whom Putin has lauded as "a professional to a high extent," has dropped to third place in polls ahead of the French election's April 23 first round since the claims about his wife's job surfaced in January.