PARIS — A French government minister is under investigation on suspicion of rape and sexual assault, a prosecutor said Wednesday, after two women came forward in the wake of the charges against former IMF leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
The women told newspaper Le Parisien that Georges Tron assaulted them behind locked doors at the city hall in the Paris suburb of Draveil, where he is the mayor and they were employees.
One said she was too ashamed to tell anyone at first, but that she spoke out after the charges were brought in New York against Strauss-Kahn, who had been considered a likely contender in next year's French presidential election.
"When I saw that a chambermaid was capable of taking on Dominique Strauss-Kahn, I told myself I didn't have the right to keep quiet," said the woman, who was not identified by name.
"Other women may be suffering what I suffered. I have to help them. We have to break this code of silence."
District prosecutor Marie-Suzanne Le Queau confirmed that officials have opened a rape and sexual assault investigation against Tron, a member of the UMP party of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the junior civil service minister. The preliminary investigation will decide whether to bring formal charges against him.
Le Parisien quoted Tron as saying the complainants were motivated by a personal vendetta.
His lawyer, Olivier Schwerb, called the allegations "unjust" but welcomed the preliminary inquiry as a way of clearing his client's name.
"Once George Tron's innocence has been proven ... it will be the turn of the plaintiffs to have to answer a charge of false accusation," Schwerb told the AP.
Tron, 53, has been mayor of Draveil since 1995 and joined the government in 2010.
The two women, former employees at Draveil city hall aged 34 and 36, accuse Tron of molesting them on several occasions between 2007 and 2010 on the pretext of giving them therapeutic foot massages. One said the massages "degenerated quickly."
Their lawyer, Gilbert Collard, said he respected Tron's presumption of innocence, but also asked people to give the women a "presumption of sincerity."
The arrest of Strauss-Kahn came as a profound shock in France, where media avoid reporting on the private lives of the famous. Strauss-Kahn had a reputation as an aggressive womanizer, but it did not make the news.
Some have asked whether this respect for privacy has helped foster a culture in which sexual harassment goes unpunished.
Since Strauss-Kahn's arrest on May 14, other women have come forward with allegations against him of inappropriate behavior, including writer Tristane Banon, who says Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted her in 2002.