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Disgraced French minister Baupin denies sexual harassment allegations

Bertrand Guary, FRANCE 24 | France’s former parliamentary speaker Denis Baupin at the National Assembly in Paris on April 4, 2015

Denis Baupin, a former deputy speaker of France’s parliament, denied allegations that he sexually harassed or assaulted 13 female members of his green EELV party but admitted to playing at “seduction” in an interview published Wednesday.

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“I’ll say it very clearly: I have never in my life committed sexual harassment or sexual assault,” he told the Nouvel Obs magazine. “Obtaining something from someone via force, whether it be physical or hierarchical, is the opposite of who I am.”

Baupin was forced to resign as parliamentary speaker on May 9 after the investigative website Mediapart and France Inter radio published allegations by eight EELV members, accusing him of sending hundreds of lewd SMS text messages and making unwanted physical advances.

The scandal deepened earlier this week after five more women came forward on Monday with similar claims of sexual harassment dating as far back as 1998.

Wednesday’s interview was the first time the politician has broken his silence on the charges against him. His lawyer has dismissed the accusations as “defamatory and baseless” and announced in May that Baupin plans to sue Mediapart and France Inter for defamation.

Baupin, who remains a member of France’s lower house of parliament, refuted each of the allegations against him. He played down claims by EELV Minister Isabelle Attard that he sent her explicit SMS text messages “almost daily” between June 2012 and December 2013 as a consensual exchange.

“I found those SMS text messages. They tell a completely different story. I’ve turned them over to my lawyer so that the police can access them. Over the course of a few days before the summer of 2012, I exchanged messages with Isabelle Attard that focused on both political and private issues. Based on the tone of her replies and the things she confided in me about her private life, she clearly did not feel it was harassment,” he said, describing the messages as “flattering”.

"These were games of seduction," he said.

Elen Debost, deputy mayor of the central city of Le Mans, has said she also received hundreds of sexually explicit text messages over several months in 2011. “It was a game on both sides,” Baupin said of her claims.

Baupin also challenged an account by EELV spokeswoman Sandrine Rousseau in which she accused him of pinning her against a wall and trying to kiss her during a party meeting in October 2011.

“There are a number of inconsistencies,” he said of the allegation.

An attempt to ‘discredit the victims’

Faced with a question about why so many women have spoken out against him, Baupin suggested that his accusers were politically motivated.

“I don’t want to speculate on the motives of these women. But there’s a possibility that past incidents have been re-interpreted due to deep disagreements within the EELV party,” he said.

Baupin’s version of events was immediately condemned by four of his alleged victims, including Attard, Debost and Rousseau.

“In denying these acts, and in attempting to discredit the victims, Denis Baupin has adopted a strategy that is unfortunately all too common in this kind of case,” they said in a statement, calling on other women who have been harassed by the politician to come forward.

Since the scandal broke in May, authorities have opened a preliminary investigation into Baupin. Although France’s statute of limitations for sexual harassment is only three years, some of the allegations against him are as recent as 2014.

Baupin has often presented himself in the past 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.

Baupin’s wife, Housing Minister Emmanuelle Cosse, has said she was shocked by the allegations against her husband. "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.

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