Woman arrested over sex tape that sank Paris mayoral candidate

French police have arrested the girlfriend of a Russian activist who released a sex video of a prominent ally of French President Emmanuel Macron, prosecutors said on Sunday.

Woman arrested over sex tape that sank Paris mayoral candidate

Pyotr Pavlensky's girlfriend was arrested on Saturday evening on charges of invasion of privacy and publishing images of a sexual nature without consent, the Paris prosecutor's office said.

Her arrest stemmed from the release by Pavlensky, a protest artist best known before now for nailing his scrotum to Red Square in Moscow, of a video of a man masturbating accompanied by screen grabs of racy text messages sent to a woman.

She has been widely named in French media as Alexandra De Taddeo, and is reportedly the former girlfriend of Griveaux and the person to whom he sent the video.

The footage is believed to have been recorded two years ago during her relationship with married father-of-three Griveaux.

She later began a relationship with Pavlensky, who has taken public responsibility for distributing the footage.

ANALYSIS: Does the Griveaux scandal mean it's now open season on French politicians' sex lives?

Griveaux dropped out of the race on Friday in the wake of the video's release, saying he wanted to protect his family.

Pavlensky, who claimed political asylum in France in 2017, was detained on Saturday.

Investigators said his arrest was over a fight at a Paris apartment on December 31st in which two guests apparently suffered stab wounds and he is accused of wielding a knife.

However, they may also question him over the sex tape. 

'Family values'

On Friday, Pavlensky told AFP on Friday that he had posted the footage online in order to expose the “hypocrisy” of 42-year-old Griveaux and planned to post more material on a newly created “political porn platform”.

Griveaux “is someone who constantly brings up family values, who says he wants to be the mayor of families and always cites his wife and children as an example.

“But he is doing the opposite,” he told the Libération daily newspaper.

Politicians from across the French spectrum took a different view of the matter, however, calling the video an intolerable invasion of Griveaux's privacy.

Macron's LREM, which is poised for a drubbing in the municipal elections according to opinion polls, was left scrambling to find another candidate to try topple Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, a Socialist. On Monday they announced that the new candidate would be former health minister Agnès Buzyn. 

Pavlensky has a track record of causing outrage.

His Red Square protest made global headlines in 2013 and two years later doused the doors of the Russian FSB secret police headquarters with petrol and set them on fire.

In October 2017, he set fire to the offices of the Bank of France on Place Bastille, site of the attack on an infamous prison at the start of the French revolution in 1789 – later receiving a jail sentence for the stunt.

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Sarkozy party denies plot to ruin Strauss-Kahn

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's party on Sunday rejected as "grotesque" suggestions that Dominique Strauss-Kahn was brought down by an elaborate plot to wreck his presidential ambitions.

Sarkozy party denies plot to ruin Strauss-Kahn
Guillaume Paumier (File)

“This story is ridiculous … this plot argument is grotesque,” said UMP party leader Jean-Francois Cope, while Interior Minister Claude Gueant dismissed the allegations as “pure fantasy.”

The remarks came after a New York Review of Books article that included hints by associates of the disgraced ex-IMF chief that his arrest on sexual assault charges in New York on May 14th might have been a set-up.

Strauss-Kahn, then tipped to beat Sarkozy in France’s 2012 presidential elections, was taken off a plane to Paris by police that afternoon after maid Nafissatou Diallo said he had attacked her in a posh Manhattan hotel.

He resigned as head of the International Monetary Fund as a result of the scandal.

The charges were later dropped after prosecutors said Diallo lied about details of her allegations, but they and subsequent claims of sexual misconduct in France were enough to end Strauss-Kahn’s political ambitions.

Back in September, he told French television: “A trap? It’s possible. A plot? We’ll see.”

The author of the New York Review of Books story, Edward Epstein, told AFP on Saturday: “I didn’t say it was a political conspiracy but I would say that people wanted to find evidence of an indiscretion of his that could derail either his (French presidential) candidacy or even (his work at) the IMF.”

One of the politician’s lawyers, William Taylor, said Strauss-Kahn may have been “the target of a deliberate effort to destroy him as a political force.”

The New York Review of Books article quotes sources saying Strauss-Kahn suspected a smartphone that disappeared just before his arrest had been hacked.

It also describes camera footage showing an employee of the Sofitel hotel, where the sexual encounter was alleged to have taken place in Strauss-Kahn’s room, high-fiving a colleague and appearing to perform a celebratory dance after listening to Diallo’s testimony.

The article has rekindled speculation that began shortly after his arrest about a plot to undermine the Socialist politician, whose wife Anne Sinclair is a multi-millionaire art heiress and celebrity journalist.

But Interior Minister Gueant said Sunday: “I would say that it’s pure fantasy.”

“I read Epstein’s article. What does it say? That DSK (Strauss-Kahn) lost his phone. It’s not because one loses one’s phone that there is a setup,” he told French media.

UMP leader Cope said that “we will not fall into the trap of pursuing this story which has nothing to do with politics,” adding that conspiracy theories were always abundant in the run-up to elections.

Cope said on Saturday that “to imagine that what happened to Strauss-Kahn was the object of some sort of collusion by the UMP is stretching things a lot.”

The Sofitel hotel group meanwhile issued a statement on Sunday that admitted that two of its employees congratulated each other after the incident but said this was unconnected.

“The article … affirms that two Sofitel employees were filmed by hotel surveillance cameras ‘rejoicing’ for three minutes,” it said.

“In reality, these facts lasted eight seconds, and there is no evidence of a ‘celebratory dance’,” it said, adding that the two employees “categorically denied this exchange had any link whatsoever with Mr. Strauss-Kahn.”

The statement did not say what the men where rejoicing over. A spokeswoman for Accor, the company that owns the Sofitel groups, told AFP she was also unable to say what the cause of the celebration was.

Epstein also wrote that hotel records showed that Diallo visited another bedroom on the same floor as Strauss-Kahn’s suite, shortly before the sexual encounter took place and immediately after.

Epstein asks who might have been in that room and why Diallo went there.  

Sofitel, which has not identified the room’s occupant, said on Sunday that “the insinuation that the customer occupying room 2028 was involved in the incident is false and without substance.”

Strauss-Kahn, who does does not deny a sexual act took place in the Sofitel suite but insists it was consensual, said on Sunday he had no comment to make on Epstein’s article.

An association of Strauss-Kahn supporters, the DSK Club, said on Sunday that the Paris prosecutor’s office should follow up Epstein’s investigation to see if there was any truth in the conspiracy theory.

In France, Strauss-Kahn’s name has been linked to a judicial investigation into a prostitution ring operating out of luxury hotels in the northern French city of Lille and a string of Belgian brothels.

Strauss-Kahn has demanded he be questioned by the judges leading the inquiry, hoping to halt what his lawyers brand a “media lynching”.