French minister admits inappropriate behaviour toward female journalist

French finance minister Michel Sapin admitted to behaving inappropriately towards a female journalist, days after a sex scandal forced the resignation of the vice-president of the lower house of parliament.

Sapin said that he was sorry about what he did but insisted that that should not be “confused with the seriousness of harassment or sexual assault”.

“During a trip to Davos in January 2015, amid about 20 people, I made a comment to a journalist about her clothing and put my hand on her back,” Sapin said, in a statement that partly denied what French journalists wrote about what happened at the World Economic Forum — that Sapin twanged the elastic of her knickers.

“There was no aggressive or sexual intent in my conduct but the mere fact the person was shocked shows those words and this gesture were inappropriate, and I was, and still am, sorry,” he said in a statement.

Sapin said the journalist immediately asked to talk with him and that he apologised to her.

Hundreds of female French politicians this week denounced sexual harassment in the corridors of power and what they called a code of silence that lets it go unpunished, a day after lawmaker Denis Baupin quit his post as vice-president of France’s National Assembly after being accused of harassment.

Baupin denies any wrongdoing.

Sapin said “in the current circumstances” he felt he had to issue that statement.

Five years ago, when a sex scandal forced Frenchman Dominique Strauss-Kahn to resign from his post of IMF chief, the case unleashed a soul-searching debate within France about sexual abuse that goes undeclared or undetected in the upper echelons of power.


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