Emmanuel Macron’s government has stood by a newly appointed minister accused by two women of sexual violence, saying it was up to the justice system to decide on such cases.
The allegations, published at the weekend by investigative news site Mediapart, have disrupted the first steps of the new administration headed by Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne, which met for the first time at the Élysée Palace on Monday.
Damien Abad, a former leading figure of the conservative Les Républicains party who was poached by Macron, was on Friday appointed minister for solidarity, a portfolio dealing with the elderly and people with disabilities.
He has strenuously denied the accusations which date back to 2010 and 2011, saying in a statement that his sexual relationships had always been consensual. He said a condition he suffers from — called arthrogryposis — which affects the mobility of his arms and legs, made the accusations physically impossible.
“At this time, there are no other procedures against Damien Abad,” government spokesperson Olivia Grégoire told reporters on Monday.
“The stance of the president and of the prime minister [Élisabeth Borne] is one of zero tolerance for any form of sexual crimes,” Grégoire added.
Abad was one of the new faces in a government reshuffle announced on Friday, in which heavyweights such as finance minister Bruno Le Maire and interior minister Gérald Darmanin retained their jobs following April’s presidential election.
One of the women levelling claims against Abad alleges that she was raped following what she suspects was a drugging incident when they had a drink together. Her allegations have been raised with the Paris prosecutor’s office, which said it was examining whether to pursue them further.
A sexual violence association she had contacted told Mediapart they had flagged the claims to several politicians, including within Macron’s party, by email last week. Borne said on Sunday she had only learned of the accusations over the weekend.
The second woman, who alleged she was coerced into performing several sexual acts she had objected to, had twice brought claims that were abandoned — the first because she did not see the process through, according to the prosecutor’s office, and the second time for lack of evidence.
The weekend allegations have particular resonance after Macron pledged in 2017 to make equality between men and women a major “cause” of his time in office. He has notched up a mixed record according to activists and women’s associations, who believe not enough has been done, for example, to effectively combat domestic violence.
Darmanin’s appointment as interior minister in 2020, when he was being investigated over a rape claim he rejected and that has since been dismissed, sparked an outcry among feminist advocates at the time.