Russian artist charged in sex video case that brought down Macron ally, lawyer says

PARIS (AFP) - Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky was charged on Tuesday (Feb 18) for his role in the dissemination of a sex video that brought down President Emmanuel Macron's candidate for Paris mayor, his lawyer said.

Pavlensky, a Russian activist granted political asylum in France in 2017, has admitted to uploading the images onto a purpose-built website, saying he wanted to expose the "hypocrisy" of candidate Benjamin Griveaux, a married father of three.

Both he and his girlfriend Alexandra de Taddeo, who was the recipient of the video, were charged with invasion of privacy and publishing images of a sexual nature without consent.

The release of the video - which was sent by Griveaux in 2018 and showed him masturbating, along with racy text messages - prompted his abrupt decision last week to pull out of the running for mayor of Paris.

The 42-year-old former government spokesman is the first senior French politician to bow out of an election over a sex scandal.

Pavlensky, 35, and de Taddeo, 29, were taken into custody in Paris on Saturday and questioned for two days. De Taddeo was released on Tuesday and ordered to refrain from contact with Pavlensky.

Her lawyer Noemie Saidi-Cottier confirmed that her client had received the messages from Griveaux but denied that she had kept them with a view to using them against him.

"She kept them to keep them," Saidi-Cottier said, adding that de Taddeo was "not behind the publication of the images".

The young woman, a law student who speaks several languages including Russian, is thought to possess other videos from Griveaux, according to a source close to the investigation.

Outpouring of sympathy

Pavlensky said as he left the courthouse that he hoped to continue disseminating sex videos of "civil servants, politicians, representatives of power".

Pavlensky is also under investigation over a knife fight at a New Year's Eve party in Paris, but he was not charged in that affair, according to his lawyer.

The leaking of the video triggered an outpouring of sympathy for Griveaux in France, where politicians and the media have long dismissed sex scandals as private affairs.

Pavlensky, who made global headlines in 2013 when he nailed his scrotum to Red Square in Moscow as a form of political protest, told AFP last week that he posted the video because Griveaux had made families a core theme of his campaign.

With just a month to go until the municipal elections, former health minister Agnes Buzyn was scrambled to take his place as the Paris mayoral candidate of Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM) party.

She faces a stiff challenge to oust the Socialist incumbent Anne Hidalgo - Griveaux was already running in a distant third place before the video emerged.

Pavlensky, who has a long record of radical protests, received asylum in France after falling foul of Russian authorities.


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