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Couple suspected of leaking Macron ally sex tape arrested

Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky speaks during a press interview with AFP at his lawyer's office in Paris on February 14, 2020. - Pavlensky was placed in custody on February 15,
Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky speaks during a press interview with AFP at his lawyer's office in Paris on February 14, 2020. - Pavlensky was placed in custody on February 15, © Lionel Bonaventure / AFP

A Russian dissident artist who published screenshots of sexual images that forced President Emmanuel Macron’s candidate for Paris City Hall to pull out of the race was arrested in the French capital on Saturday, the prosecutor’s office said. His girlfriend, who is suspected of having received the video, has also been arrested.

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Benjamin Griveaux, one of Macron’s closest lieutenants, abandoned his bid to become mayor of Paris on Friday after it was alleged he sent sexual images of his genitals to a woman who is not his wife. Griveaux has not disputed that he sent the messages.

The Russian artist's girlfriend was also arrested on Saturday evening on charges of invasion of privacy and publishing images of a sexual nature without consent, the Paris prosecutor's office said.

Her arrest stemmed from the release by Pavlensky of a video of a man masturbating accompanied by screengrabs of racy text messages sent to a woman.

Pavlensky claimed the messages were sent by former government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux, who was the candidate of the ruling Republic on the Move party (LREM) for Paris mayor in next month's municipal elections.

His girlfriend, who was not named by investigators, is suspected of having received the video.

Pyotr Pavlensky, who has lived in exile in France, said he had posted the sex video to expose Griveaux’s "hypocrisy".

Complaint for privacy violation

The Russian artist is best known for works of performance art including nailing his scrotum to the ground in Moscow’s Red Square and setting fire to a door at the headquarters of Russia’s state security agency or the Bank of France.

The prosecutor’s office said Pavlensky had been arrested and held for questioning at a police station in central Paris in connection with another case about violence perpetrated on New Year’s Eve.

It added that Griveaux had filed a complaint on Saturday afternoon for privacy violation and that an investigation had been opened.

Under French law, so-called "revenge porn", or the publishing of pornographic material without a person’s content, can be punished by up to two years in prison and a €60,000  ($65,000) fine.

Officials at Macron’s party on Saturday were still discussing who should replace Griveaux and run under the party’s banner in next month’s mayoral elections, and expected to have a name early next week, the party said in a statement.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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