France to strip special pension from underage rape probe writer

Rana MOUSSAOUI, Fiachra GIBBONS
Under investigation: Veteran writer Gabriel Matzneff who never hid his history of relationships with minors

France's culture minister said Monday that a writer accused of raping and seducing children should be stripped of a special state pension.

Award-winning essayist Gabriel Matzneff is being investigated by French police after the publication of a book detailing his sexual relationship with a girl of 14 over three decades ago.

Matzneff, 83, who won the prestigious Renaudot prize in 2013, has never made any secret of his sexual preference for adolescent girls and boys.

In the mid-1970s, he published a notorious essay called "Les Moins de Seize Ans" ("Those Less than 16") in which he recounted his "conquests".

Culture minister Franck Riester said Matzneff should be deprived of cash from a hardship fund from the National Books Centre (CNL) for elderly writers in financial straits.

In a statement, he said the author should not be granted the annual allowance if he applies for it again.

Matzneff is reported to have received around 8,000 euros ($8,900) from the fund last year, and up to 160,000 euros since 2002, according to a French Sunday newspaper, Journal du Dimanche.

The case has again shone a light on what many see as an overly permissive attitude towards sexual harassment and assaults in France.

The French film establishment has been rocked by rape accusations against directors Roman Polanski and Luc Besson, while star Adele Haenel said she was sexually harassed by the director of her first film when she was 12.

All three men deny the claims.

- Fame doesn't give 'impunity' -

The head of the CNL, Vincent Monade, said it had resisted Matzneff being awarded the allowance when he first applied for it, but bowed to the request under pressure from politicians and other famous authors who lobbied for him.

He said they had recommended to the minister that the grant now be withdrawn.

Police opened a formal investigation into Matzneff last week after leading publisher Vanessa Springora described her tortured relationship with writer in a book called "Consent".

In it she described how Matzneff, then in his fifties, would wait for her outside her school and then take her back to his home for sex.

Prosecutors said their inquiry would focus on "rapes committed against a minor" aged under 15.

Matzneff has denied any wrongdoing and said that there had been an "exceptional love" between him and Springora.

He claimed her book tried to portray him as "a pervert, a manipulator and a predator".

Ahead of the book's publication, Riester turned on Matzneff, saying "having a literary aura is not a guarantee of impunity".

MP Aurore Berge, from President Emmanuel Macron's ruling LREM party, said French society had to work to do, having looked the other way for years on sex crimes.

"Raping a child of 12 is still a crime whether it was committed in 1968 or 2019," she said in an article published at the weekend.

"To deny that children in the 1970s were victims is to try to wipe away the crimes and the trauma that they caused," she added.