Sex and slander suits hit French minister

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A French junior minister suing for slander over sexual harassment claims got hit by a further charge Thursday when a far-right leader said she would sue him for hinting she was behind the allegations.

Civil service minister Georges Tron has alleged that his rivals tried to gain momentum from another scandal, the arrest of French former head of the IMF Dominique Strauss-Kahn on sexual assault charges, to harm him.

Prosecutors said Wednesday they had launched a probe after Tron was accused of sexually harassing two former employees of the town hall where he is mayor in the Paris suburb of Draveil.

Tron counter-sued for defamation and linked the case to a feud with relatives of Marine Le Pen, leader of the right-wing National Front, hinting that she was close to the lawyer representing the alleged harassment victims.

Le Pen told RFI radio Thursday: "I find that very serious and from today I am suing Mr Tron for defamation."

"I will not let my reputation be called into question in order to save his," she added.

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

On Tuesday Tron told AFP the case was an attempt "to echo what's happening on the other side of the Atlantic," a reference to the sex crime charges in New York against Strauss-Kahn.

"I'm not naive," Tron said.

The dramatic arrest of Strauss-Kahn, the high-flying head of the global lender, embarrassed France and raised sensitive questions in the world's media about respect for French politicians' private lives.

A civil association for protecting women from violence at work, AVFT, said it had received a "credible" complaint about Tron from one of the two employees concerned in November, months before the Strauss-Kahn affair.

"We were in contact in a very serious way with one of the complainants well before all this," Gwendoline Fizaine, a spokeswoman for the AVFT, told AFP, adding that the woman "was extremely afraid of the consequences" of pressing charges.

She said the association had taken formal statements from the two women and had them consult the group's lawyers.

Prosecutors were examining the evidence to decide whether there are grounds to take the case forward.

© 2011 AFP

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