Justice

French mayor sentenced to five years' jail for rape of staff member

L'ancien secrétaire d'État à la Fonction publique et maire de Draveil Georges Tron arrive au palais de justice de Paris pour son procès en appel, le 17 février 2021.
L'ancien secrétaire d'État à la Fonction publique et maire de Draveil Georges Tron arrive au palais de justice de Paris pour son procès en appel, le 17 février 2021. AFP - CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT

Former French government minister and mayor Georges Tron has been sent to jail after an appeals court overturned a not-guilty verdict from 2018 and convicted him of raping and sexually assaulting an employee after forcing her to submit to "foot massages" in his office.

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The Criminal Appeals Court sentenced Tron, to five years in prison, of which he will serve three behind bars.

A member of the right-wing Les Républicans party, Tron was re-elected as mayor of the Paris suburb of Draveil for the fifth time in 2020.

It took the appeals court judges 11 hours to reach their guilty verdict on Wednesday, compared to the 118 minutes of deliberation needed to acquit Tron at his first trial in 2018.

This time, Tron was found guilty of the rape and sexual assault of Virginie Ettel, an employee of Draveil town hall, the crimes having been committed between November 2009 and January 2010.

Another town hall employee, Brigitte Gruel, formerly deputy cultural administrator in Draveil, was found guilty of aiding and abetting the crimes of rape and sexual assault, and was given a two-year suspended sentence.

Both will have their names added to the national register of sexual criminals. Tron may not stand for any public office for six years.

Change in attitude towards 'consent'

The appeal was heard before a court composed of a nine-person citizens jury and three professional judges.

Tron's defence team used their right of refusal to limit the number of women jurors to three; Virginie Ettel's lawyer, Laure Heinich, suggested that the rejection of young women jurors was in itself a recognition by the defence that attitudes towards sexual consent had dramatically changed since the original trial.

At the 2018 hearing, Tron's defence team was led by Eric Dupond-Moretti, now French Justice Minister.

During the hearing, Ettel testified that she had on several occasions been the victim of digital penetration and other touching, without consent, while Tron and Gruel engaged in sex acts in her presence.

'Imposed foot massages'

Tron, a cabinet minister under then prime minister Francois Fillon, was forced to resign in 2011 when he was accused of sexual assault by two women who worked for him at the Draveil town hall.

The women said that between 2007 and 2010, Tron, known for practising reflexology as a hobby, imposed foot massage sessions that would involve groping and digital penetration, at times turning into threesomes with his deputy Gruel.

The appeals court found Virginie Ettel's version of events to be "precise and invariable". The judges also noted a clear deterioration in her psychological state in the wake of the crimes. 

Hypersexualised atmosphere

Her evidence was supported by the testimony of other municipal employees who spoke of a "hypersexualised atmosphere" in Draveil town hall, and by a former mistress of Tron who told the court of other three-person sex sessions involving the mayor and his deputy.

The court found that Ettel had been forced to act under moral constraint, saying Tron had taken advantage of a subordinate employee, thus making her free consent impossible.

Sentence strengthened

The prosecution had initially requested a sentence of five years with three suspended, to be served outside jail under electronic bracelet monitoring.

But the appeals court went further, saying that the three years behind bars was justified "in view of the gravity of the crime perpetrated by a mayor against one of his employees, at the workplace, during office hours, in a clear abuse of power". 

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