French libel trial opens against alleged sex assault victim

Former French minister Pierre Joxe is seeking one euro in symbolic damages

A French writer reaffirmed in court Monday her accusation of sexual assault by a former minister, who is suing her for libel in a case critics see as an attempt to discourage abuse victims from speaking out.

In 2017, as the #MeToo movement was spurring hundreds of women to denounce abusive behaviour, French writer Ariane Fornia accused the top Socialist figure and advisor to ex-president Francois Mitterrand of assault while attending the Opera Bastille in Paris in 2010.

Former defence and interior minister Pierre Joxe, now 84, has angrily denied the charge and demanded a public apology. He filed his libel suit after Fornia refused.

The case, which opened in Paris court Monday, is being closely watched after the founder of France's #MeToo campaign Sandra Muller was convicted in September of defaming the man she accused of sex harassment in a viral Twitter post.

Muller, a journalist, was ordered to pay 15,000 euros ($16,600) as well as legal fees to a French TV executive she said had made sexually lewd remarks at a party.

The alleged assault by Joxe is beyond France's statute of limitations, so no inquiry was opened into the claim.

"I fully stand behind what I said as the exact truth, and I am certain that Mr Joxe knows it perfectly well," Fornia told the court Monday.

She said Joxe touched her leg several times trying to get under her dress during the opera performance.

Joxe said he was "even more outraged than two years ago," while his lawyer questioned the accuracy of several details in Fornia's original account of the allegations in her blog.

A court said it will issue its ruling on January 22.

Joxe is seeking one euro in symbolic damages but also 5,000 euros in legal fees and the deleting of the content from her blog.

The hearing came just days after a former carer assisting Joxe's wife at their home accused him of sexual aggression and harassment, from September 2017 to December 2018.

The woman, a 40-year-old from Haiti, has filed a lawsuit and the Paris prosecutor's office said Wednesday that an investigation was underway.

"As if by chance, this story, even more absurd than the other, comes a few days before the Paris court hearing," Joxe told AFP last week.

His lawyer, Jean-Yves Dupeux, told AFP that "my client strongly rejects these accusations and will prove that they are false."