French prosecutors open rape probe against former deputy mayor of Paris
French prosecutors said Tuesday they were opening a preliminary rape investigation into a former deputy mayor of Paris after a man accused him in a newspaper article of years of sexual abuse.
The probe against Christophe Girard will look at charges of alleged "rape by a person in a position of authority", Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said in a statement.
The move came swiftly after the New York Times reported the allegations of Aniss Hmaid, now 46, that Girard had sexually abused him over nearly a decade after they met in Tunisia when he was 15.
Hmaid claimed Girard sexually abused him when he was 16, and then coerced him into sex on about 20 further occasions over several years.
The prosecutor's statement said the investigation would aim to determine if the allegations "could be characterised as a crime" and also, given that the alleged events date back several decades, whether they can still be prosecuted.
Girard resigned as deputy to Mayor Anne Hidalgo in July afer opposition politicians and women's groups demanded his suspension over ties to Gabriel Matzneff, an award-winning writer who has never hid his preference for sex with adolescent girls and boys.
After the prosecutor's announcement, Girard said he would also step back from his remaining duties as a member of the Paris city council "for the duration of the preliminary enquiry and to better defend myself".
His lawyer, Delphine Meillet, criticised Hmaid Tuesday for having gone to the media with his story rather than the authorities.
Now, she said, "the prosecutor feels obliged to open an investigation in the light of media pressure, which is particularly sensitive on these subjects..."
But Meillet insisted "there is no offence" and even if there had been, it was legally too late to prosecute now.
Girard had been questioned in March
Girard, who was in charge of cultural affairs for the Paris government until his resignation, was questioned in March in connection with an ongoing investigation into Matzneff following claims by author Vanessa Springora she had a relationship with the author while under-age.
Matzneff is to stand trial next year on a charge of justifying paedophilia, and prosecutors launched a rape investigation the day after Springora's bestselling book "Consent" was published.
The case of Matzneff is seen by campaigners as a key test of whether France is serious about cracking down on sexual abuse of minors after many years of what critics say has been turning a blind eye to the issue.
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