French presidential candidate Francois Fillon was put under formal investigation by magistrates on Tuesday on suspicion of embezzling state funds - a move that may ruin the right-winger's hopes of winning power in May.
On Sunday, a leading newspaper reported that a mystery benefactor had bought the former prime minister luxury suits worth thousands of euros.
Many like his foreign affairs spokesman Bruno Le Maire were furious Fillon had initially said he would step down if mise en examen, the nearest French equivalent to being charged.
At his request, Mr Fillon met the investigative judges on Tuesday morning, one day earlier than the date set for the meeting, to avoid media attention, a spokeswoman for his campaign said.
He is also being investigated over payments to his two children Marie and Charles when he was a senator.
His once thriving campaign has been damaged by a financial scandal in which he is accused of paying his wife huge sums of public money for a phony job as a parliamentary assistant.
The 62-year-old Republican is alleged to have paid hundreds of thousands of euros in taxpayers' money to his British wife Penelope for work she may not have carried out. He has denied all wrongdoing, saying that his wife worked from his home in the Sarthe region of northern France during his 40-year political career.
That image has been further dented by reports that he accepted an interest-free loan of 50,000 euros from a business magnate friend and a report this weekend that he has received gifts of clothing since 2012 worth nearly another 50,000 euros.
Fillon is up against far-right Marine Le Pen, centrist Emmanuel Macron and left-leaning Benoît Hamon & Jean-luc Melenchon respectively.
The clothing gifts from a for-now anonymous donor included two suits in February that were tailor-made at a chic Paris outfitter's, for a total of 13,000 euros.
Nevertheless, the charges mark a significant escalation in a scandal that first broke in late January.
"So what?" Fillon said Monday in an interview about the suits.
He added: "Politics is tough but it must remain dignified".