A brewing scandal over accusations of rape by a minister in France’s newly named government could taint its first Cabinet meeting – which is meant to focus on purchasing power.
The appointment of Damien Abad on Friday had already been mocked by the right because it came a day after he left his conservative mainstream party for President Emmanuel Macron’s centrists.
Now Mr Abad, the minister in charge of policies for the disabled and social welfare, faces accusations of assaulting two women over a decade ago — which he firmly denies and says would be impossible given his own disability.
Mr Abad was a last-minute prize for Mr Macron’s Renaissance party that may backfire if the scandal does not quickly fade.
New Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, the second woman named to the post, said on Sunday that she was unaware of the allegations surrounding Mr Abad, but “there will be no impunity” in such cases for members of the government if judicial authorities step in.
However, she was not clear at what point in legal proceedings she would remove a government member.
Mr Abad, who was born with arthrogryposis, a condition that affects the joints and muscles, said in a statement on Sunday that the “accusations concern acts or gestures which are simply impossible for me due to my disability”.
He said he was forced to make clear that “the sexual act can only take place with the assistance and help of my partner”, and allegations by one of the women “that I could drug, carry, undress and rape an unconscious woman are simply inconceivable and abject”.
The allegations made by the two women were revealed on Saturday, a day after the new government was announced, by the investigative online publication Mediapart.
In one case, a complaint was filed in 2017 and later thrown out.
No legal action has so far been taken in the other case, although a watchdog women’s group said it had notified leading members of Mr Macron’s centrist party and Mr Abad’s previous party about the complaints on May 16 — four days before the government was announced.
The timing could not be worse for Mr Macron who is trying to keep his parliamentary majority in legislative elections in June so that he is free to move forward with his agenda on all fronts.
The growing scandal over Mr Abad has somewhat drowned out an uproar over the newly appointed education minister, Pap Ndiaye, a historian who had previously headed the National Museum of the History of Immigration.
He is being challenged by the rightist opposition for being too “woke” — for example, for allegedly taking part in gatherings that excluded white people.
He has not commented.