PARIS — A French senator is under investigation on accusations that he spiked the drink of a fellow lawmaker with drugs this past week with an intent to sexually assault her, the Paris prosecutor’s office said Saturday.
Sen. Joël Guerriau, 66, a centrist for the Loire-Atlantique region of western France, denies the charges. He is accused of trying to drug Sandrine Josso, 48, who belongs to a different centrist party in the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament, and who represents the same area as Guerriau.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said that Guerriau was being formally investigated on charges of using and possessing illegal drugs and of giving someone a mind-altering substance without their consent “in order to commit rape or sexual assault against them,” which is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros ($82,000).
Josso told investigators that she had left Guerriau’s home shortly after feeling ill after drinking a glass of Champagne there, and she has not accused him of sexually assaulting or raping her. Prosecutors have not explained the basis for charging that Guerriau acted with intent to commit sexual assault.
Laure Beccuau, the Paris prosecutor, told RTL radio on Friday that investigators suspected that the drug used by Guerriau was ecstasy.
Rémi-Pierre Drai, Guerriau’s lawyer, said that the senator denied any wrongdoing.
“Joël Guerriau is not a predator,” Drai said in a statement. “He’s an honest, respected and respectable man who will restore his honor and that of his family, however long it takes.”
Guerriau’s small center-right party, Horizons, said Saturday that it was suspending him immediately and that it would start disciplinary proceedings that could lead to his expulsion from the group.
“If confirmed, these are very serious facts,” the party said in a statement. “Horizons will never tolerate the slightest complacency toward sexual and sexist violence.”
Guerriau was released from police custody after questioning, but he is barred from meeting with Josso, the prosecutor’s office said. Under French law, officers did not need to seek the lifting of his parliamentary immunity, because he was being investigated as being caught in the act.
Guerriau and Josso have not commented publicly on the accusations. Although both belong to parties that are allied with President Emmanuel Macron, neither is well-known nationally; nor are they key allies of the French leader.
Julia Minkowski, Josso’s lawyer, said her client was at Guerriau’s home in Paris on Tuesday evening when she rapidly felt ill after drinking Champagne that he had served her. According to Josso, Guerriau exhibited “very strange behavior” and she saw him take a small plastic bag containing a white substance out of a kitchen drawer, Minkowski said.
Guerriau and Josso were longtime political friends but were not in a romantic relationship, according to their lawyers.
Guerriau, a banker who was first elected to the French Senate in 2011, is the vice president of the Senate’s foreign affairs and defense committee. Josso, a nutritionist, was first elected in 2017 as a member of Macron’s party but later switched to another group, the centrist MoDem, or Democratic Movement.
Josso had been on good terms with Guerriau and had no reason to suspect his intentions, Minkowski said, adding that according to her client Guerriau had never made romantic or sexual advances on her.
“There is a feeling of betrayal,” Minkowski said.
But Drai said that the day before inviting Josso over to celebrate his recent reelection, Guerriau was feeling depressed and had prepared a glass with an unspecified product in it for his own consumption.
Guerriau put the glass back without using it, the lawyer said, and accidentally reused that glass to serve Josso Champagne the following day.
Drai said that Guerriau had apologized to Josso for what he called a “handling mistake.”
“It may sound far-fetched,” he added. “But it’s the exact truth.”
In France, criminal cases such as the one against Guerriau are handled by special magistrates who have broad investigative powers and who can place defendants under formal investigation when they believe the evidence points to serious wrongdoing. The magistrates can later drop the charges if they do not believe the evidence is sufficient to proceed to trial.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.