French TV news presenter faces multiple allegations of sexual offences

Twenty women have come forward to openly accuse one of France’s best-known television news presenters of sexual harassment and abuse – including rape – following an investigation by French journalists.

Patrick Poivre d’Arvor – known as PPDA – has faced a number of accusations that emerged after a writer first went to police to accuse him of rape, in February last year. The investigation was later dropped.

The news presenter responded by announcing last month he was taking legal action against 16 women who spoke to detectives for “slanderous denunciation”.

On Tuesday, the investigative website Mediapart interviewed 18 women – 16 of them prepared to be named and filmed for the programme PPDA: 30 Years of Silence, and two who were present but hid their faces. A further two alleged victims were named and filmed talking of their encounters with the television star separately.

The majority of the alleged sexual offences, which reportedly began in 1980, are now beyond the time limit for criminal proceedings under French law. Two of the alleged victims, who are now aged between 28 and 63 years, were minors at the time. Many of the alleged assaults reportedly took place in the presenter’s office at the television station after he had finished reading the prime-time news.

Poivre d’Arvor, 74, has always denied any wrongdoing and insisted his relations with the women were consensual and part of a ritual of “seduction” involving no violence or constraint. He has described the allegations as “false from beginning to end”.

A preliminary police investigation was launched in February last year when writer and journalist Florence Porcel, 38, accused Poivre d’Arvor of two counts of rape in 2004 and 2009. The investigation was dropped four months later as a judge said there was insufficient evidence on either side to press charges and the allegations were beyond the legal time limit.

However, media coverage of Porcel’s accusation led to 22 other women coming forward to give evidence to the police. Seventeen of them lodged formal complaints, eight of them alleging rape, but the cases fell outside the time limit for prosecutions under French law and were not pursued. Three other cases are under investigation.

Mediapart journalist Marine Turchi said the women had not met as a group before the programme was recorded and most had never spoken publicly before. Most of them said they had not spoken out at the time of the alleged assaults and rapes – except in some cases to family and friends – because they were afraid they would not be believed or that doing so would damage their careers.

Nonce Paolini, the former chief executive of TF1, who ended Poivre d’Arvor’s contract in 2008, told Mediapart he had not known of the alleged abuse and harassment, which he described as “revolting”. “If we’d known anything, there would have been punishment. Obviously we didn’t know,” he said.

Paolini added: “I want to tell these women that their suffering cannot leave anyone indifferent, especially not me either as a man, or as the former head [of the company]. I hope they will be able to get their cases reviewed by the courts.”

Porcel said the women had formed a support group. “We wanted to show that we are united, that we are solid, that we are facing this together and that Patrick Poivre d’Arvor no longer makes us afraid. It seems also important to say I’m still standing and I intend to continue standing.” Porcel is pursuing further legal action against Poivre d’Arvor.

Teacher Margaux Coquil-Gleizes described how she met Poivre d’Arvor when she was 17 and an aspiring novelist. She said he invited her to his hotel room. “I was young, naive, impressionable, flattered by the attention that Poivre d’Arvor was going to pay to my writing.”

Once in the room she said the television star “pushed me on the bed, he undressed, he took my clothes off and penetrated me. At the time I was paralysed. It took a very long time for me to realise that it was a rape by surprise.”

Journalist Justine Ducharne said she did not want to discuss details of what happened to her but described it as “a horror”.

Last year, Poivre d’Arvor accused the women of hiding behind anonymity. “Nobody has dared come forward, face to face, to tell me what I did was not acceptable.” He did not accept Mediapart’s invitation to take part in the two-hour programme.

In his 43-page legal complaint for slander against 16 of his accusers, Poivre d’Arvor deplored “a return to puritanism and censorship cleverly dressed up as the supposed protection of women”. He said: “Since the excitement generated by the #MeToo wave, the liberation of women’s voices has unfortunately had its share of excesses and abuses.”

He also claimed the women were seeking fame and revenge. “No credit can be given to these 16 women, journalists or writers in search of fame who have become sudden feminists to support a former colleague, a friend, or even a simple activist for the women’s cause,” he said. “It is all about revenge on the part of women who have not received more consideration, or even a glance, from a man they once admired.

“[This] makes the rejected or ignored respondents very bitter today, a bitterness that leads them to commit, out of belated revenge, the crime of slanderous denunciation.”

Turchi said Poivre d’Arvor and his lawyers had been approached to take part in the programme. “We would have liked him to express himself and we asked him to do so, but he refused,” she said.

Poivre d’Arvor’s lawyer, Philippe Naepels, had not responded to the Guardian at the time of writing.

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