Gerald Darmanin has had a tumultuous two-week spell as France’s Home Secretary as the country questions whether someone being investigated for rape allegations can and should be their ‘best cop”.
The 37-year-old’s appointment on July 6 sparked immediate outrage that showed no sign of abating – women’s rights activists have picketed all of Darmanin’s public appearances to date.
He is accused by Sophie Patterson-Spatz of having raped her in 2009 after requesting her help to have a criminal record erased while he was legal adviser to the UMP, the ancestor of the main French right-wing party, the Republicans.
Darmanin maintains that they had consensual sex.
The case has been dismissed several times, but Paris appeals judges last month ordered a new investigation after Patterson-Spatz approached France’s highest court.
The outcry over Darmanin’s promotion to a key cabinet post just weeks after the move appears to have surprised the government and the centrist party of President Emmanuel Macron.
Their defense of Darmanin has focused on the presumption of innocence, even though they appear to have exonerated him despite an ongoing investigation.
Macron explained to French television that he had a “relationship of trust, man to man” with Darmanin, a phrase many criticized for being deaf.
– ‘Manhunt’ –
A member of Macron’s team defended the appointment, telling AFP that the criminal case was moving “in the right direction” and “presented no obstacle” to Darmanin’s rise.
Darmanin himself complained about a “manhunt” and told a regional newspaper this week that it was difficult for a falsely accused person to explain to his parents “what happened. because, it’s true, I lived the life of a young man ”.
Patterson-Spatz also accuses Darmanin of sexual harassment and abuse of power, while he filed a defamation lawsuit against her in return.
Even though he is ultimately cleared, critics say the mere suspicion of impropriety renders Darmanin unsuitable for the post of the Interior Ministry, especially since Macron had promised a “moralization of public life” under his watch.
“It is not certain that we correctly assess the damage this case is causing,” Philippe Moreau-Chevrolet, an analyst at the University of Sciences Po in Paris, said of the political support for Darmanin at one point in time. widespread mistrust. to government.
A cabinet minister who requested anonymity told AFP: “What is annoying is that this question is spreading.”
In an interview with the press, Darmanin said he was “completely at ease”, but Tuesday his lawyers warned that he reserved the right to prosecute “any defamatory statement that stains his honor and his esteem”.
Even within his own ministry, Darmanin’s appointment raised eyebrows – if she was questioned in the investigation, it would be by police officers of whom he is now the boss.
– ‘Rape culture’ –
And his fellow cabinet members find themselves in difficult positions.
Elisabeth Moreno, the new Minister for Gender Equality, said after a “woman-to-man” conversation with Darmanin that he deserved the benefit of the doubt, “but if he is found guilty, we’ll talk about it again.”
A minister told AFP that “Legally speaking, I think the case is flawed. But then comes the moral question: Did Darmanin always behave well towards women? ”
The allegations are not the first against Darmanin – a woman accused him of using his post as mayor of the northern city of Tourcoing to seek sexual favors from 2014 to 2017, although prosecutors dismissed the case.
Women’s rights activists, including Iranian Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi, wrote in Le Monde that Macron’s cabinet reshuffle that promoted Darmanin marked an “anti-feminist political shift.”
Women’s groups united under slogans such as “Rape Culture in Motion” – a play about Macron’s Republic party on the move – staged protests in Paris and the rest of France, even in Brussels. , since the appointment of Darmanin.
© 2020 AFP