Disgraced MP sues French media over sex assault allegations
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France’s disgraced former deputy parliamentary speaker Denis Baupin will sue investigative website Mediapart and France Inter radio for defamation over accusations he sexually harassed at least four women in his party, his lawyer said on Tuesday.
The move came shortly after the Paris prosecutor’s office announced it had opened an investigation into the allegations against him. Prosecutors said their inquiry would focus on gathering statements from the alleged victims and that no criminal complaint had yet been lodged against Baupin.
Baupin’s wife, Housing Minister Emmanuelle Cosse, said earlier in the day that she was shocked by the allegations made Monday by four members of the ecologist EELV party. "We are talking about acts of extreme seriousness and if they are proven, it must be dealt with by the courts," she told France Info.
She said she still had faith in her husband and had heard nothing of the accusations until they appeared in the media on Monday. "I was very affected as a woman, as a wife, as a mother and also as a minister," she said.
Baupin, 53, resigned his post as a deputy speaker on Monday, saying he wanted to focus on fighting the allegations, which he vehemently denies. However, he remains a member of France’s lower house, or Assemblée Nationale.
Baupin's lawyer has described the allegations as "mendacious, defamatory and baseless".
The statute of limitations for sexual harassment in France is only three years, which would exclude most of the incidents alleged by the four women, some of which date back 15 years.
Hundreds of sexually explicit texts
"Denis Baupin appeared in the corridor outside ... He pinned me against the wall with his chest and tried to kiss me. I pushed him away vigorously," she said.
Elen Debost, deputy mayor of the central city of Le Mans, claimed she received hundreds of sexually explicit text messages over several months in 2011.
She said she did not realise the scale of the problem until approached by the media, and that "a lot of people kept quiet so as not to harm his campaign".
Mediapart reported that there was a culture of silence within the party, even though Baupin’s predatory behavior was well known. A number of female staffers were advised to lock their office doors if they had to work late at night while Baupin was on the premises, or were told not to get into an elevator alone with him.
A Twitter post by Baupin on March 8 to commemorate International Women’s Day helped convince Debost to go public. The post featured Baupin and other colleagues wearing lipstick in support of a campaign highlighting violence against women.
"I saw him in the photo with red lipstick and it made me really sick,” Debost told France Inter. “I thought we could not remain silent, because by keeping silent, we were accomplices to a practice that continues."
Baupin has often presented himself as a defender of women’s rights. In a July 2012 tweet he welcomed a vote on a law against sexual harassment that was aimed at encouraging victims to come forward.
"Proud to participate in this vote for justice," he tweeted.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)