“He [Mr Macron] had an incredible stroke of luck. I’m sure he organised [Mr Fillon’s defeat], I think they [Mr Macron’s campaign team] largely contributed to setting up the demolition cell,” he told the business students.
Right-winger Mr Fillon was the favourite to win last year’s presidential election until a scandal involving his wife’s work erupted in January, sending him plummeting in polls.
Welsh-born Penelope Fillon denied claims she had been paid hundreds of thousands of euros for a fake job as her husband’s parliamentary aide, but Mr Fillon never recovered from the controversy and eventually lost out to the young centrist.
“Do you think she embodies power?” he asked.
The conservative chief also accused Nicolas Sarkozy of having his ministers’ phones tapped, a “grotesque” claim the former president’s entourage has vehemently denied.
In the audio recording, Mr Wauquiez can also be heard urging the youths to keep the meeting a secret.
He said: “What I have to say must stay between us. No tweets, no social media posts, no transcription of what I say otherwise this can’t be a free space.”
The Republican’s comments triggered outrage among his political opponents.
Budget minister Gerald Darmanin denounced the “grave accusations” made against Mr Macron, adding that the conservative leader had turned to the “dark side of the force;” while government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux slammed the “defamatory” and “vulgar” claims.
The president of the Hauts-de-France region Xavier Bertrand, for his part, said that the comments could have come straight out of the mouth of far-right chief Marine Le Pen or America’s Donald Trump.
He said: “It could have been any member of the Le Pen family speaking… He’s even managed to outdo Trump [when it comes to making controversial claims].”
Mr Wauquiez, for his part, denounced on Saturday the “illegal” manner in which his comments had been recorded, stressing that he had been having a “free discussion” with students and talking in a “private setting”.
While he has since apologised to Mr Sarkozy, he has not yet apologised to Mr Macron nor to Mrs Merkel.