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POLITICS

French government rallies around rape-accused budget minister

Members of the French government on Sunday rallied around Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin, a rising star in President Emmanuel Macron's team who has been accused of rape in a case dating back nearly a decade.

French government rallies around rape-accused budget minister
AFP

On Saturday, the Paris prosecutor's office confirmed that it had reopened an investigation into allegations Darmanin, 35, pressured a woman into sex in return for promising to help clear her name in a legal dispute.

The case comes in the midst of a global outpouring of accounts of sexual harassment and rape unleashed by the Harvey Weinstein affair.

Sophie Spatz, a 46-year-old former call girl, made a first complaint against Darmanin in mid-2017 but the investigation was closed soon after when she failed to attend questioning by the police.

In mid-January she renewed her complaint, triggering a new preliminary probe.

Darmanin's lawyers have accused her of a “crude attempt to harm” the minister's reputation and said he was suiting her for slander.

On Sunday, Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet rejected suggestions that he should resign, noting that he had not been charged with any crime.

Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert also took up Darmanin's defence, saying the principle of innocent until proven guilty should apply to his cabinet colleague, “like any other citizen”.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Saturday that Darmanin still had his “full confidence”.



'All false'

Darmanin, a former right-wing MP who jumped ship to Macron's centrist Republic on the Move party last year, is one of the best performers in the president's largely inexperienced team.

Spatz approached him in 2009 to seek his help in trying to have a suspended sentence lifted for blackmail involving a former boyfriend.

Le Monde quoted her as telling police that when she approached Darmanin for help he placed a hand on hers and told her: “You too must help me” and that she felt pressured into sex.

In an interview with France Info radio on January 15, Darmanin denied the allegations, saying he was “a nobody” at the time of the alleged rape and that it was “all false”.

He admitted however to having a reputation for being an insistent flirt and to “sending a few persistent SMSes”.

Socialist senator and former minister for families Laurence Rossignol was one of the few opposition politicians to comment on the affair.

“We must keep two things in mind: the respect for presumption of innocence on the one hand and respect for the word of the complainant on the other,” she said.

Four feminists on Sunday launched a petition calling on the prime minister to sack Darmanin.

POLITICS

‘Public opinion is ready’ – These French senators want to legalise marijuana

A group of 31 French senators of the Socialist, Green and Republican parties have come together to write a statement calling for the legalisation of marijuana in France.

'Public opinion is ready' - These French senators want to legalise marijuana

France is known for having some of the strictest laws regarding marijuana consumption in Europe – while simultaneously maintaining one of the highest rates of cannabis usage in the EU. 

A group of French senators – coming from the Socialist, Green and centre-right Les Républicains parties – are trying to change those laws, and have come together to call for marijuana to be legalised in France.

The group of 31 co-signed a statement published in French newspaper, Le Monde, on Wednesday, August 10th.

In the statement, the senators promised to launch a ‘consultation process’ to submit a bill to legalise marijuana “in the coming months.”

The proposition was headed by Senator Gilbert-Luc Devinaz, a member of the Socialist Party, and gained support from the party’s leader, Patrick Kanner.

READ MORE: The long and winding road towards changing France’s cannabis laws

A report by the Assemblé Nationale, which was published in May 2021, estimated that nearly 18 million French people (more than 25 percent of the population) had already consumed marijuana, and that an additional 1.5 million consume it regularly.

This, coupled with the 2019 finding that nearly one in two French people (45 percent) said they were in favour of legalisation, according to a survey by the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT), helped strengthen the senators’ position.

“Public opinion is ready, the legislature must act,” they wrote.

Their senators argue that legalising marijuana in France will allow the authorities to better protect French citizens, saying that legalising would not require “minimising the health impacts of cannabis consumption” but rather would allow regulation similar to “public policies for tobacco, alcohol or gambling.”

For the group of 31 senators, the benefits of legalisation would involve a better control over the “health quality of products consumed,” “curbing trafficking in disadvantaged areas,” developing large-scale prevention plans,” and finally the taxation of cannabis products and redirection of law enforcement resources. Decriminalisation – in their opinion – would not be sufficient as this would simply “deprive authorities the ability to act,” in contrast to legalisation. 

READ MORE: Is France moving towards legalising cannabis for recreational purposes?

“In the long term, new tax revenues would be generated from the cannabis trade and from savings in the justice and police sectors”, which would make it possible to mobilize “significant resources for prevention as well as for rehabilitation and economic development,” wrote the senators.

In France, the conversation around cannabis has evolved in recent years – former Health Minister (and current government spokesman) Olivier Véran said to France Bleu in September 2021 that “countries that have gone towards legalisation have results better than those of France in the last ten years,” adding that he was interested in the potential therapeutic use of cannabis.

Currently, the drug is illegal in France. Previously, it fell under a 1970-law of illicit drug use, making it punishable with up to a year prison and an up to €3,750 fine.

However, in 2020, the government softened the penalties, making it possible for those caught consuming it to opt for an on-the-spot fine of €200.

There is also an ongoing trial involving 3,000 patients to test the impacts of medical marijuana usage, particularly with regard to pain relief. 

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