French police held a Russian activist and his girlfriend for questioning on Sunday over a sex tape released online that brought down President Emmanuel Macron’s favoured candidate for Paris mayor.
Pyotr Pavlensky has said he leaked the video that forced the centrist ruling party’s Benjamin Griveaux to bow out of the running for mayor in next month’s election.
The 35-year-old artist, who received asylum in France in 2017 after several radical protests in Russia, was arrested on Saturday in connection with a fight at a New Year’s party.
On Sunday, however, police turned their attention to the images posted online this week of a man presented as Griveaux masturbating, coupled with racy text messages purportedly sent by the politician.
The video prompted Griveaux, a married father of two, to call off his mayoral campaign, citing the need to protect his family from scandal.
Pavlensky’s girlfriend Alexandra de Taddeo, believed to have been the recipient of the video, was arrested on Saturday evening on charges of invasion of privacy and publishing images of a sexual nature without consent.
The 29-year-old Frenchwoman was being questioned on Sunday at the headquarters of the criminal police in Paris.
On Friday, Pavlensky told AFP that he had posted the footage online in order to expose the “hypocrisy” of 42-year-old Griveaux and planned to post more material on a newly created “political porn platform”.
Griveaux “is someone who constantly brings up family values, who says he wants to be the mayor of families and always cites his wife and children as an example. But he is doing the opposite,” Pavlensky told France’s Liberation daily.
Griveaux’s lawyer, Richard Malka, hit back on Sunday, accusing “pseudo artists” of giving “morality lessons”.
Former government spokesman Griveaux is the first senior French politician to pull out of a campaign over a sex scandal, marking a turning point in the country’s traditionally permissive attitudes towards politicians’ private lives.
French media and politicians from across the spectrum have portrayed the 42-year-old, who has filed a formal complaint for invasion of privacy, as a victim.
“Everyone has the right to their secret garden,” the speaker of the National Assembly, Richard Ferrand, told Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper.
Malka hinted at a political set-up, saying he suspected Pavlensky “did not act alone”.