France Drops Rape Investigation of Former Deputy Mayor of Paris

PARIS — Prosecutors in France said Wednesday that they had dropped a rape investigation into a former deputy mayor of Paris because the statute of limitations on the alleged offense had expired.

The prosecutors opened their investigation of Christophe Girard in mid-August, two days after The New York Times published an article in which Aniss Hmaïd, now 46, accused Mr. Girard of abusing him sexually in the 1990s, starting when he was still a minor. Mr. Hmaïd claimed that Mr. Girard coerced him into sex some 20 times over the course of about a decade.

In exchange, Mr. Girard, now 64, employed the younger man as a domestic worker in his home and also gave him odd jobs at the French fashion company Yves Saint Laurent, where he was a top executive before entering politics.

“He took advantage of my youth, of my young age and everything for his sexual pleasures,” Mr. Hmaïd said in the August article. On Wednesday, he declined to comment on the prosecutor’s decision to drop the investigation.

From the outset, Mr. Hmaïd’s accusations were expected to fall under the statute of limitations, which was 20 years at the time of the alleged offense, and therefore were never likely to lead to a conviction. But French prosecutors regularly open investigations in sexual abuse cases to identify other potential victims, even if the statute of limitations may have expired.

The allegations against Mr. Girard were the first among a series of sexual abuse scandals that have rocked Paris City Hall in recent months. They are part of a broader reckoning over sex, gender and power in France that has shaken the cultural and political realms.

Mr. Girard, a power broker in politics and culture for a generation, had already been the subject of intense criticism during the summer over his links to Gabriel Matzneff, a French writer who openly promoted pedophilia for decades while benefiting from the protection of French elites. Under pressure over his connections to Mr. Matzneff, Mr. Girard resigned as deputy mayor but continued until now to sit on the Paris City Council.

Mr. Hmaïd told The New York Times that he first met Mr. Girard in Tunisia in the summer of 1989 when he was 15. He said they met in Hammamet, a Tunisian resort town, where Mr. Girard hired him as a houseboy in a villa he had rented. But it was a year later, during a trip together to the United States in 1990, that Mr. Girard began abusing him sexually in Washington, Mr. Hmaïd said.

Mr. Girard denied ever engaging in any sexual relationship with Mr. Hmaïd in an interview with The New York Times. But he said he had spent time with the younger man and considered him a member of the family.

“Now I have to think about my new life,” Mr. Girard said in a text message on Wednesday, adding that he had “always had confidence in the French justice system and its independence.”

Image“He took advantage of my youth, of my young age and everything for his sexual pleasures,” Aniss Hmaïd said.
Credit…Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

An official from the Paris prosecutor’s office said that they had “closed the case against Mr. Girard as a result of the statute of limitations having expired.”

Nevertheless, activists and members of the Paris City Council pressed for Mr. Girard’s full withdrawal from political life in the name of ethics.

Mr. Girard’s case eventually caused a rift in the leftist alliance governing Paris, with young, Green party City Council members openly opposing the former deputy mayor while Mayor Anne Hidalgo strongly supported him.

It also reignited a fierce debate over feminism in France.

Raphaëlle Rémy-Leleu, a feminist and Green party City Council member, said that she could not envision Mr. Girard returning to his responsibilities on the council.

“It is a question of ethics and political morality” more than a question of legal proceedings, Ms. Rémy-Leleu said. She expressed doubts that he could again become an elected official entrusted with projects or responsibilities.

France recently toughened laws against sex crimes and extended the statute of limitations for rape of a minor to 30 years from 20 years, but that extension cannot be applied retroactively to Mr. Hmaid’s case.

Prosecutors did not comment on the content of the investigation or whether the charges against Mr. Girard were substantiated.

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