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Eight of the biggest sex scandals that rocked French politics

The sex scandal is far from a recent invention and most modern politicians are clean-living to the point of dull compared to their counterparts through the ages. Here are 8 of the biggest scandals to rock French politics.

Eight of the biggest sex scandals that rocked French politics
Photo by THOMAS COEX / AFP

Félix Faure

The exact circumstances around the death of president Félix Faure in 1899 are still uncertain, apart from the fact he died in the arms of his half-naked mistress Marguerite Steinheil in the drawing room.

Faure was later found to have died of a brain haemorrhage, although some suggested he was the victim of poisoning by his political opponents.

But within hours France was awash with rumours of the president dying in the arms of his mistress and as the website RFI reports, the left wing French press had a bit of fun at his expense.

“Félix Faure passed away in good health, indeed from the excess of good health,” wrote the French daily Gil Blas in February 1899.

The Journal du Peuple wrote: “He was sacrificed on Venus’s altar, at the limits of that official morality of which he was supposed to be the highest representative.”

For her part, Faure’s mistress Steinheil ended up being nicknamed la pompe funèbre (the funeral director).

André Le Toquer and the pink ballet

The case of the “Pink ballet” is one of the most controversial sex scandals involving a French politician. 

In 1959, a daily newspaper revealed that the Assemblée nationale president André Le Toquer was holding sex parties in his official residence outside of Paris.

It was later revealed that these weren’t just ‘parties’ – they were sado-masochistic orgies, involving girls as young as 14. 

The one-armed 73-year-old was convicted of “offences against morality” in a scandal that involved major French businessmen and even a Romanian countess.

But the World War I veteran and member of the French resistance, who fought alongside General de Gaulle, was considered to have served his country well and was handed a one-year suspended jail sentence and a 3,000 franc fine.

Even at the time, many considered that extremely lenient.

The president’s wife and the celebrity sex parties

This affair began in 1968 when a man called Stevan Markovic was found dead in his car in the greater Paris area. Markovic worked as a body guard to the French film star Alain Delon, and among the things found in his car were sexually explicit photos of a woman who strongly resembled Claude Pompidou – wife of French Prime Minister (and later president) Georges Pompidou.

These are the only undisputed facts about the case, which is still hotly contested today.

Delon and Markovic were known to enjoy sex parties, which were sometimes filmed and photographed, and the allegation is that Madame Pompidou was a guest at one (or more) of these parties. Pompidou said the photos were of a prostitute who merely resembled his wife, although he did admit that he and his wife had attended parties with Delon and Markovic.

Pompidou was elected president the following year and no-one was ever charged with Markovic’s murder. 

François Mitterrand and his secret daughter

In 1994, French magazine Paris Match dramatically revealed that the then French president François Mitterand had a 20-year-old secret daughter, named Mazarine, born to his long-term mistress Anne Pingeot.

The news caused a scandal not only because Mitterrand was married at the time, but mainly because the state helped him keep it hidden from press, even as Mitterand paid regular visits to his mistress and daughter.

Mitterrand’s desperation to keep it a secret from the French press was one of the motivations behind some of the illegal wiretapping that he ordered under the guise of fighting terrorism.

At his funeral in 1996, both Ms Pingeot and Mazarine attended alongside Mr Mitterrand’s wife, Danielle, and their two sons.

In 2014, more details emerged around his private life when Hravn Forsne, a 25-year-old Swedish politician, revealed that he was the son of the former president and Christina Forsne, a Swedish journalist with whom the former president had been having an affair.

Mazerine later wrote a book in which she revealed what it had been like growing up knowing that she was the ‘guilty secret’ of the president.

The serial killer and the prostitutes

In 2002 a serial killer named Patrice Alegre was jailed for life for murdering prostitutes who attended orgies at a Toulouse court house. 

Various French public officials were alleged to have protected him and Alegre claimed the city’s senior officials ordered some of the murders in a bid to protect themselves from blackmail.

Hollande, the actress and the spurned lover

Not many would have imagined the president nicknamed “flamby” would have ended up embroiled in a sex scandal that made global news.

But that’s exactly what happened in January 2014, when Closer magazine revealed that François Hollande had been having a secret affair behind the back of his partner Valerie Trierweiler with actress Julie Gayet.

The publication of images showing Hollande heading off to meet Gayet on the back of a scooter effectively brought to an abrupt end the longstanding notion that the president’s private life was off limits for the media.

Despite Hollande batting away questions about his love life the scandal was not quickly forgotten with Trierweiler releasing a tell-all memoir sarcastically titled “Thank You for this moment”.

In 2022, five years after leaving office, Hollande and Gayet married.

DSK, the hotel maid and the prostitutes/libertines

IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn – and at one time French presidential hopeful – has been involved in numerous sordid affairs.

He was accused of raping a hotel maid in New York, although criminal charges in that case were dropped, and then he was accused of sexually assaulting a female French journalist, although no charges were brought in that case either.

DSK was also at the centre of the so-called Carlton affair.

He would attend sex parties – or Bunga Bunga get togethers as Sylvio Berlusconi called them – along with prostitutes.

DSK said he had no idea they were sex workers – arguing that once a woman was naked, how could you tell? – and tried to portray himself as a ‘libertine’ who enjoyed high-end sex parties.

This case did result in criminal charges, but he was cleared of any wrong doing in the high profile trial. If you really want to know how sordid the whole affair was, then read these most outrageous and explicit quotes from the trial.

The Griveaux tape

In 2020 it was revealed that Benjamin Griveaux, a 42-year-old politician who was a close ally of Emmanuel Macron and at that moment was running for the job of mayor of Paris, had had an affair with a woman who was not his wife.

The scandal was revealed via an intimate video that Griveaux had sent the woman during the course of their affair and led to his resignation. 

Although the scandal itself was not particularly remarkable – the film was made during the course of an affair between consenting adults and there is no suggestion that Griveaux coerced or pressured her into a relationship – the manner in which it was revealed is interesting. 

The tape was released by his former lover and her new partner, Russian performance artist Piotr Pavlenski, previously best known for nailing his scrotum to Red Square.

Pavlenski had initially offered the compromising footage to French news site Mediapart, which declined to publish because of the “sacred principle of the absolute respect of private life.”

He instead published the footage on social media, which was widely shared and eventually picked up by traditional media – the final nail in the coffin, many said, of the idea that a French politician’s sex life was nothing to do with his job. Although a criminal case is ongoing against Pavlenski and the woman for publishing intimate images of a person without their consent, which is illegal in France. 

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POLITICS

Macron gives ground to allies in unpopular pension reform bid

President Emmanuel Macron's government on Sunday offered a concession on contested French pension reforms, seeking to shore up support from prospective right-wing allies ahead of the parliamentary debate.

Macron gives ground to allies in unpopular pension reform bid

People who began work between the ages of 20 and 21 will be able to retire at 63, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told the JDD weekly, rather than the headline age of 64 that has unions and large swathes of the public bristling.

“We hear the request” of MPs from the conservative Republicans party, whose votes are needed to make up a majority for the reform, Borne said.

Republicans leader Eric Ciotti had earlier told the Parisien newspaper that the change would “secure a very large majority” of his MPs.

Although re-elected to the presidency last year, Macron also lost his parliamentary majority and has been forced either to cobble together compromises or ram through laws using an unpopular constitutional side door.

But he has stuck to the widely disliked pension reform, against which hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated and many workers went on strike in two days of mass action so far, with more planned on February 7 and 11.

READ ALSO: What to expect from Tuesday’s strike in France

Meanwhile the left-wing opposition in parliament has submitted thousands of amendments to stymie debate on the law.

Borne also acknowledged demands from the Republicans and Macron’s Democratic Movement allies for a 2027 review of the reform, which aims to bring the pensions system out of deficit by 2030.

And she said the government would pile pressure on companies to end the practice of letting go of older employees, which leaves many struggling to find work in their final years before pension age.

READ ALSO: 5 minutes to understand French pension reform

“Too often, companies stop training and recruiting older people,” Borne said.

“It’s shocking for the employees and it’s a loss to deprive ourselves of their skills.”

Government plans will force companies to regularly publish details of how many older workers they employ, with Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt on Saturday trailing financial penalties for those which fail to do so.

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: Who is winning the battle over French pension reform?

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