PARIS — French authorities are taking another look at a woman’s rape accusation against the government’s budget chief, who denies the allegation.
The prime minister’s office expressed support Saturday for Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin and said it would be up to the justice system to investigate.
Darmanin is the highest-ranking French official accused of sexual misconduct since the scandals that started with Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in October snowballed into a movement affecting numerous industries and countries.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said an investigation of the allegation that Darmanin, 35, raped a woman in 2009 was opened last year and closed because the accuser didn’t show up for questioning,
A new preliminary investigation was launched after the woman filed a new lawsuit and answered investigators’ questions this week, the prosecutor’s office said Saturday.
The accuser’s lawyer, Elodie Tuaillon-Hibon, said the alleged rape took place when her client sought legal from Darmanin, at the time an up-and-coming official in France’s conservative Republicans party.
The woman is a former prostitute who was convicted in 2004 for blackmail, according to Tuaillon-Hibon. She maintained she was wrongfully convicted and wanted Darmanin’s help with the case when he allegedly forced her into sex, the lawyer said.
Darmanin vigorously contests wrongdoing and has filed a countersuit alleging false denunciation. Speaking on radio network France-Info earlier this month, he acknowledged receiving a letter accusing him of abuse of power and possibly rape. He called the accusations “false.”
“I was nothing, I was a young man,” he said of the time period in which the assault allegedly occurred.
France has seen widespread outrage over sexual violence and harassment in recent months, as well as an increasing number of police reports for sexual misconduct. Unlike in the U.S., no powerful French figures have lost their jobs as a result.
Some famous French women, notably actress Catherine Deneuve, also have denounced the mounting “denunciations” as a form of puritanism that threatens sexual freedom.
Lawyer Tuaillon-Hibon, who specializes in sexual misconduct cases, told The Associated Press that she has received “a lot more requests” for help in recent months and observed a growing sensitivity among police and prosecutors toward victims of alleged sexual abuse.
But she said France needs clearer laws on what constitutes sexual consent.
“That’s the heart of this case,” she said.