France’s new government is facing an early scandal as a minister has denied allegations in the media that he raped two women in 2010 and 2011.
Damien Abad, Minister for Solidarity in charge of policies for the disabled and social welfare, was accused in a story by Mediapart of coercing the women to have sex with him, based on interviews with the alleged victims.
Abad has denied the claims “in the strongest possible terms”, saying his own disability would have made it impossible for him to have carried out the acts described.
“Should an innocent man resign? I don’t think so,” he told reporters on Monday.
“I have never raped a single woman in my life,” Abad added. “All the sexual relations I have had in my life have always been with mutual consent.”
The story cast a shadow over the first meeting of French President Emmanuel Macron’s new cabinet on Monday. New Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said she had met with Abad on Sunday evening to discuss the allegations and stressed that there would be “no impunity” in such cases.
Government spokeswoman Olivia Gregoire also said there would be “zero tolerance” for sexual misconduct by members of the executive. “What is at stake is establishing the truth,” she told reporters earlier on Monday, adding: “It is for judicial authorities to do so”.
But she also encouraged other women who may be victims to “present themselves without reserve” to the police. The government, she said, “is at the sides of those, following an aggression or harassment, have the immense courage to speak”.
Monday’s first cabinet meeting was meant to focus on helping struggling French families regain purchasing power and addressing other issues, as Gregoire put it, to “change the lives of the French”.
The appointment of Damien Abad had already provoked derision because it came just one day after he left the Republican party for President Macron’s centrist bloc.
Abad 42, was born with arthrogryposis, a condition that affects the joints and muscles. He says this means the acts he is accused of are “simply impossible”.
He said he was forced to clarify that “a sexual act can only take place with the assistance and help of my partner… [Allegations] that I could drug, carry, undress and rape an unconscious woman are simply inconceivable and abject.”
One of the women previously filed complaints against Abad in 2012 and 2017 before they were thrown out.
Leading members of Macron’s party are understood to have been informed about the second allegation four days before the final cabinet picks were announced.