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Former Deputy Mayor of Paris Under Investigation in Rape Case

PARIS — Prosecutors in France announced on Tuesday that they had begun an investigation of Christophe Girard, a former deputy mayor of Paris and supporter of the pedophile writer Gabriel Matzneff, over the possible rape of a young man.

The announcement came two days after the publication of an article in The New York Times in which Aniss Hmaïd, now 46, accused Mr. Girard of abusing him sexually when he was 16 years old and coercing him into sex about 20 times during a decade-long relationship.

In return, Mr. Girard employed him as domestic help and gave him odd jobs at the Yves Saint Laurent design house, where Mr. Girard was a top executive before entering politics, Mr. Hmaïd said.

In an interview with The Times, Mr. Girard denied having any sexual relationship with the younger man.

The latest development in the Matzneff scandal raised pressure on Mr. Girard, a power broker in politics and culture in Paris for a generation, to give up his remaining position as a city councilor in the capital. It also put his former boss, Mayor Anne Hidalgo of Paris, who has fiercely defended Mr. Girard, in an increasingly awkward position with both allies and critics.

Citing the article in The Times, Rémy Heitz, the Paris prosecutor, said that the juvenile police unit was overseeing the investigation of a possible “rape by a person with authority” in connection with Mr. Girard and Mr. Hmaïd.

In a statement, Mr. Heitz said that they had opened their investigation on Monday.

Mr. Hmaïd told The Times that after he had first met Mr. Girard in Tunisia — when he was 15 and Mr. Girard was 33 — the older man had employed him as a houseboy in his summer home in southern France. During a trip together to the United States in 1990, when he was 16, Mr. Girard abused him sexually in Washington, masturbating him while he was asleep, Mr. Hmaïd said.

In an interview with The Times, Mr. Girard denied ever engaging in any sexual activity with Mr. Hmaïd. Mr. Girard, now 64, said he had always treated Mr. Hmaïd well and considered him a member of the family.

Four people told The Times that Mr. Hmaïd had told them of the abuse by Mr. Girard about two decades ago. In addition, Mr. Hmaïd provided The Times with about a hundred photos showing him in the company of Mr. Girard, his family and friends. One photo, which Mr. Hmaïd said he took after a sexual encounter, shows the older man standing at the foot of a bed, fully nude, smiling and looking directly at the camera.

Mr. Hmaïd contacted The Times following the publication earlier this year of an article detailing the network of supporters that had furthered the career of Mr. Matzneff, a writer who openly talked about engaging in sex with boys as young as 8 in Asia and with teenage girls in France.

After Mr. Matzneff identified Mr. Girard as one of his patrons and friends, the deputy mayor came under pressure from feminist activists and members of the Green Party in Paris to step down from his position overseeing culture in the capital. Mr. Girard, who downplayed his ties with the writer, refused while enjoying the backing of Mayor Hidalgo.

Still, after a protest last month in front of City Hall — which Mr. Hmaïd attended — Mr. Girard surprised politicians and the news media by abruptly resigning.

On Monday, following the publication of The Times’s article on Mr. Hmaïd, Mr. Girard’s opponents demanded that he give up his seat on the City Council, which he won in a recent municipal election running as a member of the Socialist Party, which is an alliance partner with the Green Party.

On Tuesday, Mayor Hidalgo said in a tweet that the investigation would “allow the victim to express himself,” and the leader of the Socialists at the Paris City Hall announced that he had asked Mr. Girard to withdraw from their group while the investigation was underway.

But while they appeared to distance themselves, they did not call for him to give up his council seat.

Critics like Raphaëlle Rémy-Leleu, a city councilor from the Green Party, continued to press for Mr. Girard’s full withdrawal from political life.

“Considering the seriousness of the offense and the investigation of prosecutors, it is a question of morality and ethics that he resign,” she said.

Mr. Girard’s lawyer, Delphine Meillet, said that he had no intention of stepping down as a city councilor.

“There is no criminal offense and if there were one, it would not be legally valid because of the statute of limitations,’’ Ms. Meillet said during a phone interview.

The statute of limitations for sex crimes involving children was extended from 20 to 30 years in 2018. But determining whether it applies in a case such as Mr. Hmaïd’s — in which, he said, the abuse began in 1990 in the United States before continuing in France — remains extremely complicated.

“It depends on many, many things,” said Laure Dourgnon, a French legal expert on the rights of children, adding that prosecutors would have to determine the nature of the sexual relationship — whether it was sexual assault or rape — and examine the laws that were in place at the time.

In some Western countries, under so-called statutory rape laws, sex with a minor under a certain age is automatically considered rape because the minor is thought to be too young to consent, but France uses a different system. Rulings on rape take into account an assortment of factors, including the use of violence, force, surprise or lack of choice in a situation.

In an interview last week, Mr. Girard said that he had resigned from his position as deputy mayor for culture because of the demonstration against him in July where some activists held signs that equated City Hall to “pedoland.”

“I obviously understood that it wouldn’t stop and that it was going to be hell,” Mr. Girard said.

Source: NYT > World News

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