A senior member of French President Emmanuel Macron’s government has been accused of raping a former call girl.
Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin, 35, is said to have attacked Sophie Spatz, 46, a decade ago while he was working as a legal advisor.
Paris prosecutors reopened the case at the weekend, creating the possibility that Mr Darmanin could face trial and prison if found guilty.
He has denied all the charges and launched a slander complaint against Ms Spatz.
Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin, 35, is said to have attacked former call girl Sophie Spatz, 46, a decade ago while he was working as a legal advisor
It is the first major sex scandal to hit Mr Macron’s administration after the head of state pledged to fight all types of sleaze in public life.
Despite the seriousness of the accusations, the government was on Monday standing by Mr Darmanin, with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe saying he retained ‘full confidence’ in him.
Ms Spatz – who was originally called Olga Patterson – approached Mr Darmanin in 2009 after receiving a 10-month suspended sentence for blackmail and threats against a former lover in 2004.
She had worked as a prostitute in Paris and was in a particularly vulnerable state at the time, so wanted help in clearing her name.
Mr Darmanin was working in the legal affairs department of the then ruling conservative UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) party and took a special interest in Ms Spatz’s case.
According to lawyers for Ms Spatz, Darmanin said: ‘Yes, you’re innocent, there’s a problem at the Justice Department, we’ll be able to do something.’
Then Mr Darmanin is said to have invited Ms Spatz, who was married at the time, to dinner at a restaurant next door to the National Assembly in Paris, where he held her hand.
Trips to Les Chandelles, a well known-libertine sex club followed, before the pair ended up in a Paris hotel room where they had sex.
Ms Spatz’s husband is said to have found her lying on the floor of the room and she told him she had been raped, according to her lawyers.
Mr Darmanin kept in touch with Ms Spatz and there are text messages confirming sexual relations.
One from Mr Darmanin dated November 3, 2009 reads: ‘You’re right, I’m probably a dirty fool. How can I be forgiven?’
It is the first major sex scandal to hit the administration of President Macron after the head of state pledged to fight all types of sleaze in public life
Mr Darmanin admits being a ‘persistent flirt’ who was used to sending messages to women, but said he was a ‘nobody at the time’ of the alleged attack and had not raped anybody.
It was not until last year that Ms Spatz lodged a formal legal complaint against Mr Darmanin, soon after Mr Macron’s En Marche! (On the Move!) party had won power in France.
Mr Darmanin was one of many former conservatives who had joined the new political movement and he was becoming increasingly well known.
Despite this, Ms Spatz failed to attend police interviews at the time, but a preliminary investigation has now been restarted.
French politics is notorious for its sex scandals, with presidents and their most senior lieutenants regularly having affairs.
The political career of former finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn was brought to a halt by a succession of rape allegations, but none were ever proved.