Popular French minister denies sex harassment rumours

French Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition Nicolas Hulot looks on as he leaves the Elysee palace following the weekly Cabinet meeting on February 8, 2018 in Paris. — AFP pic
French Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition Nicolas Hulot looks on as he leaves the Elysee palace following the weekly Cabinet meeting on February 8, 2018 in Paris. — AFP pic

PARIS, Feb 9 — France’s environment minister Nicolas Hulot furiously fended off rumours of sexual harassment yesterday two weeks after another member of President Emmanuel Macron’s cabinet was accused of rape.

Hulot, a celebrity green activist who is one of Macron’s most popular ministers, appeared close to tears in a television interview as he denied the “shameful” rumours.

“It hurts, when it’s wrongful and unfounded. Yesterday, my children were in tears,” the 62-year-old said, describing the situation as “a nightmare”.

Hulot, a TV star who has forged a three-decade career as an environmental campaigner, won swift support from the presidency.

“As he has not been charged, there is no reason why he should resign,” Macron’s office said.

Questioned on BFMTV about accusations from “the grand-daughter of a famous politician” dating back to 1997, Hulot acknowledged that the woman filed a complaint in 2008 but said the case was dismissed.

“I was questioned at my own request and investigators very quickly concluded that there was nothing suggesting the case should be followed up,” Hulot said.

Christine Le Crom, the prosecutor for Saint-Malo where Hulot lived at the time, yesterday confirmed in a statement that a rape allegation against Hulot had been filed — and thrown out — in 2008.

According to the statement, “a young woman did indeed file a complaint, on July 11, 2008, against Nicolas Hulot reporting an act of rape committed, according to her, eleven years earlier”.

“Nicolas Hulot was heard August 29, 2008 on these facts,” the statement said.

But “the two protagonists had a contradictory version as to the consent to the aforementioned sexual relation”, it added.

Hulot has been attempting to clear the air ahead of the publication of an investigation by a magazine that poses fresh problems after a difficult start to life as a politician.

The Ebdo weekly, due to publish an interview with his unnamed accuser today, has described her accusations of being abused at one of his homes as “devastating”.

Hulot also denied suggestions that a former colleague had accused him of harassment.

“The answer is no,” he told BFM.

“The worst thing is that she has already been questioned by some of your colleagues and she gave the same answer.”

He said he had not yet considered resigning, but added: ”My family comes first, that’s what will guide my decision.”

Second minister under fire

The rumours dogging Hulot emerged after Paris prosecutors reopened an investigation in late January into rape allegations against Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin.

A former call girl claims he pressured her into sex in 2009 in exchange for helping her clear her name in a legal dispute.

Darmanin’s lawyers have accused her of a “crude attempt to harm” the minister’s reputation and said he was suing her for slander, and other ministers have rallied around their colleague.

France, like other countries around the world, has seen an outpouring of allegations of sexual assault and harassment in the wake of the scandal engulfing Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Hulot was among several figures Macron brought in from outside politics to brighten his cabinet when the centrist newcomer came to power in May.

The environmentalist has regularly been reported to be on the brink of resigning, frustrated over issues including a decision to delay France’s commitment to cutting its reliance on nuclear energy to 50 per cent until after 2025.

After filing a declaration of his assets in December as required by ministers, press reports highlighted how the eco-warrior owned nine motor-engined vehicles, including an SUV. — AFP

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