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French budget minister questioned in rape inquiry
[PARIS] French budget minister Gerald Darmanin was questioned by investigators Monday over rape accusations dating back nearly a decade, which he has steadfastly denied, a legal source said.
Paris prosecutors last month reopened an investigation into claims that Mr Darmanin, 35, pressured a woman into sex in return for promising to help clear her name in a legal dispute.
The case comes in the midst of a global outpouring of accounts of sexual harassment and rape unleashed by the Harvey Weinstein affair.
Sophie Spatz, a 46-year-old former call girl, made a first complaint against Mr Darmanin in mid-2017 but the investigation was closed soon after when she failed to attend questioning by the police.
In mid-January she renewed her complaint, triggering a new preliminary inquiry.
Darmanin's lawyers have accused her of a "crude attempt to harm" the minister's reputation and said he was suing her for slander.
Government officials have rallied in support of Mr Darmanin, fending off calls for his resignation.
Mr Darmanin's questioning on Monday came as environment minister Nicolas Hulot said he was suing a French magazine for libel after it published an interview with an unidentified woman who accused him of sexual assault in 1997.
The woman has since been identified as the granddaughter of former French president Francois Mitterrand.
Mr Hulot emphatically denied the allegation in an emotional television interview on last week.
The case has prompted debate in France over whether the magazine, Ebdo, should have unearthed an old case which had not been investigated by police.
Ebdo justified its decision by pointing to the sexual harassment allegations ricocheting around the world, including in France, since the scandal broke over Weinstein.