French minister quits over sexual harassment accusation

Georges Tron at the Elysee Palace - photo 6 January Mr Tron is counter-suing his accusers for slander

A French junior minister accused of having sexually harassed staff of a town hall where he is mayor has resigned from the government.

A statement by the prime minister said Civil Service Minister Georges Tron had acted "in the general interest", and noted he denied the allegations.

His resignation comes in the wake of the US arrest of ex-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn earlier this month.

He is charged with sexually assaulting a chamber maid in a New York hotel.

In the wake of the Strauss-Kahn case, there has been speculation internationally over whether France is prepared to re-examine its strict observance of privacy laws to report scandals affecting politicians.

'Foot massages'

A statement on Sunday by Prime Minister Francois Fillon's office said Mr Tron's resignation did not prejudice his case.

"The prime minister, together with the president of the republic, takes note of this decision, which does not in any way prejudice the next steps the justice system will take with regard to the complaints made against Georges Tron, the legitimacy of which he contests," it said.

Analysis

Georges Tron was not a particularly important minister and therefore easily expendable as far as the president was concerned. But the swiftness of his departure is a clear sign that after the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair, no suspicion of sexual misconduct will be tolerated.

The claims against Mr Tron surfaced last week. His supporters say it's no coincidence the allegations were made public just after the Socialist Strauss-Kahn was charged in New York, implying in other words that they're a trumped up attempt to spread the opprobrium over the whole political class.

However, his accusers say the link to the Strauss-Kahn affair lies in the fact they felt emboldened by the IMF chief's humiliation to speak out. Either way, pressure was clearly applied on Mr Tron to step down, and he said he had resigned both to spare the government further embarrassment and to clear his name.

French prosecutors have opened an investigation into the allegations of harassment, brought by two former municipal employees in the town hall of the Paris suburb of Draveil.

The two women accuse Mr Tron of molesting them on the pretext of giving them foot massages, when they worked for him, on several occasions between 2007 and 2010.

One said the therapy "degenerated quickly", according to the Associated Press news agency.

"If the facts alleged are established, they could come under the headings of sexual aggression and rape." said prosecutor Marie-Suzanne Le Queau on Wednesday.

One of the women, known only as Laura, told Le Parisien newspaper, said she was inspired to take action by the Strauss-Kahn case.

"When I see that a little chambermaid is capable of taking on Dominique Strauss-Kahn, I tell myself I do not have the right to stay silent," she said.

"Other women may be suffering what I suffered. I have to help them. We have to break this code of silence."

Mr Tron, who is married with three children, denies the allegations, which he has described as "incredible".

He is counter-suing his accusers for slander.

"All of this is grotesque," his lawyer Olivier Schnerb said. "It's a succession of false assertions that are entirely defamatory."

Mr Tron has also attempted to link the case to far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, hinting she was close to the lawyer representing the alleged victims.

Ms Le Pen responded by saying she would sue him for defamation.

"I will not let my reputation be called into question in order to save his," she told French radio on Thursday.

More Europe stories

RSS

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.