PARIS, May 30 – A minister has resigned from the government to fight allegations of sexual harassment, two weeks after ex-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn\’s sensational New York arrest on sex crime charges.
Civil service minister Georges Tron, accused of sexually harassing two women who worked for him at the town hall where he is mayor, said in his letter of resignation to President Nicolas Sarkozy that he would prove his innocence.
He stepped down after prosecutors said Wednesday they had opened a preliminary investigation into accusations of sexual aggression and rape against him.
His lawyer has described his accusers as "inveterate liars."
The 53-year-old minister said in his resignation letter he would disprove the "vindictive" accusations by the former municipal employees, one of whom he said was sacked for fraud and the other for "undignified behaviour."
The two women, aged 34 and 36, claimed in the complaints they lodged with the public prosecutor that Tron had assaulted them when they worked in the town hall of the south Paris suburb Draveil, where Tron is mayor.
The alleged incidents took place between 2007 and 2010.
One of the women said she was encouraged to speak up after the arrest of another French political heavyweight, former socialist minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
"When I see that a chambermaid was capable of taking on Dominique Strauss-Kahn, I tell myself I don’t have the right to stay silent," the woman, who was not identified by name, told Le Parisien newspaper.
"Other women may be suffering what I suffered. I have to help them. We must break this code of silence," she said.
Strauss-Kahn has stepped down from his post at the head of the International Monetary Fund to devote himself to fighting charges that he tried to rape a chambermaid in his New York hotel suite.
Tron\’s resignation was announced in a statement by Prime Minister Francois Fillon, who praised Tron for his "courage" in taking a decision which was in the "general interest".
Tron has linked the case to a feud with relatives of right-wing National Front leader Marine Le Pen living in Draveil, which prompted Le Pen to announce that she was suing him for defamation.
He has alleged that his political rivals were trying to gain momentum from the arrest of Strauss-Kahn.
"I am not naive. They are trying to echo what\’s happening on the other side of the Atlantic," he told AFP on Tuesday.
Le Pen, who has dismissed the allegation, said Thursday she would sue Tron for libel. She had been calling for his resignation since Friday.
After examining the evidence, prosecutors can decide to shelve the case against the ex-minister, refer it to an examining magistrate or send it straight for trial.
Tron is a member of the rightwing UMP party led by Sarkozy, who is widely expected to seek re-election in next year\’s presidential vote in France.
Strauss-Kahn had been seen as a leading presidential hopeful for the opposition Socialists, but his arrest in New York has likely scuppered his chances.
Strauss-Kahn was released on bail this week after spending nearly a week behind bars following his dramatic arrest just hours after the alleged assault, as he was about to take off on an Air France plane for Paris.
He is due back in court on June 6, when he is expected to enter a formal plea of not guilty. If so, the case would move to trial later this year.