French politics rocked by new sex harassment scandal
French politics was rocked Sunday by another sex scandal when a minister accused of harassment resigned, two weeks after ex-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn's sensational New York arrest on sex crime charges.
Civil service minister Georges Tron, accused of sexually harassing two women who worked for him at the town hall where he is mayor, said in his letter of resignation to President Nicolas Sarkozy that he would prove his innocence.
His resignation came after prosecutors this week opened a preliminary investigation into accusations of sexual aggression and rape against Tron, whose lawyer has described his accusers as "inveterate liars."
The 53-year-old minister said in his resignation letter he would disprove the "vindictive" accusations by the former municipal employees, one of whom he said was sacked for fraud and the other for "undignified behaviour."
The two women, aged 34 and 36, claimed in the complaints they lodged with the public prosecutor that Tron assaulted them between 2007 and 2010 while they worked in the town hall of the south Paris suburb Draveil, where Tron is mayor.
One of the women said she was encouraged to speak up after the arrest of Strauss-Kahn, the French head of the International Monetary Fund, on charges he tried to rape an African chambermaid in a posh New York hotel.
"When I see that a chambermaid was capable of taking on Dominique Strauss-Kahn, I tell myself I don't have the right to stay silent," the woman, who was not identified by name, told Le Parisien newspaper.
"Other women may be suffering what I suffered. I have to help them. We must break this code of silence," she said.
Tron's resignation was announced in a statement by Prime Minister Francois Fillon, who praised him for his "courage" in taking a decision which was in the "general interest" and did not in any way affect the outcome of the probe.
Tron has linked the case to a feud with relatives of right-wing National Front leader Marine Le Pen living in Draveil, which prompted Le Pen to announce that she was suing him for defamation.
He has alleged that his political rivals were trying to gain momentum from the arrest of Strauss-Kahn.
"I am not naive. They are trying to echo what's happening on the other side of the Atlantic," he told AFP on Tuesday.
After examining the evidence, prosecutors can decide to shelve the case against the ex-minister, refer it to an examining magistrate or send it straight for trial.
Tron is a member of the rightwing UMP party led by Sarkozy, who is widely expected to seek re-election in next year's presidential vote in France.
Strauss-Kahn had been seen as a leading presidential hopeful for the opposition Socialists, but his arrest in New York has likely scuppered his chances.
The accusations of sexual harassment against Tron were "yet another shock" for the French, said Francois Bayrou, leader of the small MoDem opposition party.
Political analyst Jerome Fourquet said Tron's resignation might help "calm things down" for Sarkozy.
The president had handled the Strauss-Kahn affair well but was under pressure over similar accusations against a member of his own government, said Fourquet, who works at the Ifop polling institute.
Strauss-Kahn was released on bail this week after spending nearly a week behind bars following his dramatic arrest just hours after the alleged assault, as he was about to take off on an Air France plane for Paris.
Strauss-Kahn must reappear in court on June 6, when he is expected to enter a formal plea of not guilty. If so, the case would move to trial later this year.
© 2011 AFP