Top Mélenchon ally probed over sexual harassment allegations

PARIS — The Paris prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into harassment and sexual assault allegations against lawmaker Éric Coquerel, a key ally of French far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Agence France Presse reported Wednesday.

The investigation will examine complaints by Sophie Tissier, a leading figure in the Yellow Jackets protest movement, over acts allegedly committed in 2014.

Coquerel contests the accusations and the case may fall under statute-of-limitation restrictions.

“I am thankful that the justice system is taking this seriously,” Tissier told BFMTV on Wednesday.

In an earlier interview with the same channel, she complained of “inappropriate gestures, wandering hands” during a party in August 2014. She also claimed Coquerel had sent text messages offering to take her to his hotel.

Coquerel, a legislator in Mélenchon’s radical France Unbowed party, initially faced claims of improper behaviour with women by journalist Rokhaya Diallo, after he was elected to lead the finance committee of the French National Assembly in late June.

After Coquerel dismissed the claims as “unfounded rumours,” Tissier filed an internal complaint with France Unbowed, followed by a formal complaint to the police.

The investigation comes barely a month after Mélenchon’s success in parliamentary elections robbed French President Emmanuel Macron of his majority in the National Assembly, giving the left-wing firebrand and his party unprecedented political influence.

Coquerel’s case has shed light on the management of gender-issues within France Unbowed. The party takes a strongly feminist stance and has an internal unit to handle sexism and sexual violence. However, Mélenchon and other leading members have largely backed Coquerel.

Recent high-profile gender-based violence allegations have also hit Macron supporters.

A rape probe against Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin was dismissed on Monday after a 5-year investigation, but the plaintiff decided Wednesday to appeal.

Damien Abad, who was removed as minister for solidarity and disabled people during a government reshuffle this month, is also under investigation for rape allegations. Junior minister for international development Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, faces allegations of sexual violence during medical examinations at her gynaecology practice.