French ex-minister jailed for rape and sexual abuse of staff member

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A former French government minister has been sentenced to jail after an appeal court convicted him of the rape and sexual abuse of a staff member at the town hall where he is mayor.

Two former municipal employees had accused Georges Tron, who claimed to be an expert reflexologist, of making them submit to foot massages that turned into sexual assaults in 2007 and 2010.

Tron was cleared of the charges in 2018 after a court decided there was no evidence that the women had been forced into sexual acts, but at an appeal trial this week the jury upheld the accusations from one of the plaintiffs.

The court decided that the “seriousness of the accusations”, Tron’s “persistent denials” and “the pressure exercised on witnesses and victims” justified a jail sentence.

The court also recognised the “moral constraint” Tron exercised over the two female employees because of their subordinate role at the town hall.

“It’s a great victory for all women who may have problems at their workplace,” Vincent Ollivier, lawyer for one of the women, said after the verdict.

Tron, 63, who repeatedly insisted he was innocent, lost his seat in president Nicolas Sarkozy’s cabinet in 2011 after the accusations emerged, but was re-elected as the mayor of Dravail, south of Paris.

After 11 hours of deliberation on Wednesday, the jury imposed a five-year prison sentence, two years of which were suspended. This was more than the punishment requested by the attorney general, who had suggested Tron be given two years non-suspended, to be served out of jail while wearing an electronic bracelet.

Tron’s deputy mayor, Brigitte Gruel, who had denied charges of aiding and abetting the sex attacks, was given a suspended two-year prison sentence after being convicted.

The defendants were acquitted of the rape and sexual assault of a second complainant.

The two female town hall employees went to the police after the Socialist presidential hopeful Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then head of the International Monetary Fund, was accused of assaulting a hotel worker in 2011. The sexual assault charges were dropped, but the woman won a substantial but undisclosed settlement after launching a civil action. Strauss-Kahn’s arrest prompted a number of French women to come forward to report sexual abuse and was a precursor to the global #MeToo movement sparked by the arrest of Hollywood director Harvey Weinstein.

In previous hearings Tron, a member of the centre right Les Républicains party, was represented by Éric Dupond-Moretti, now the justice minister. Tron had claimed the accusations were a plot by the far right in the town where he has been mayor since 1995.

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