French Senator Joël Guerriau is facing preliminary charges of drugging a fellow lawmaker with the intent to commit “rape or sexual assault”, prosecutors confirmed Friday, in a case that has shocked France. Guerriau was suspended from both his Horizons party and his Senate group on Saturday.
The 66-year-old senator from western France was arrested at his Paris home on Thursday over the alleged attempted assault of Sandrine Josso, 48, a member of the lower-house National Assembly. He is accused of drugging the MP by spiking her drink after he invited her to his home.
Guerriau was placed under judicial supervision on Friday pending the outcome of the investigation, restricting his freedom of movement. Prosecutors said the two politicians were long-standing acquaintances but were not in a relationship.
Guerriau’s centre-right party Horizons, which is allied to President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party, said on Saturday it had suspended the senator “with immediate effect” and initiated disciplinary proceedings “that could lead to his permanent exclusion”.
His Senate group Les Indépendants, which includes senators from Horizons and other centre-right parties, announced it was taking the same steps in a statement shortly after.
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What has Guerriau been charged with?
Guerriau is facing preliminary charges of “administering to a person, without their knowledge, a substance likely to impair their discernment or control over their actions in order to commit rape or sexual assault”, according to the Paris public prosecutor’s office.
His lawyer Rémi-Pierre Drai said he denies the charge. Guerriau was also charged with possessing drugs, Drai added.
The senator was arrested after Josso filed a legal complaint. He was detained under rules of “flagrancy”, which grant investigators special powers – such as overriding parliamentary immunity – when the suspect is caught in the act or shortly thereafter. Searches were carried out at Guerriau’s office and also at his home, where investigators found ecstasy, a potent drug that causes both stimulant and hallucinogenic effects.
Guerriau and the alleged victim were jointly questioned, in their lawyers’ presence, for nearly two hours on Friday, a common practice in France known as a “confrontation”. After his release from police custody, the senator was placed under judicial supervision and banned from contacting Josso or any witnesses.
Under French law, preliminary charges mean that the investigating magistrates have strong reason to suspect wrongdoing but need more time to determine whether to send a case to trial. Charges levelled at Guerriau carry a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment and a €75,000 fine.
What do we know about the incident?
Josso told investigators she felt ill after having a drink on Tuesday night at the senator’s Paris apartment, prosecutors said. According to French broadcaster BFMTV, which cited sources close to the investigation, the MP told police that the two had initially agreed to meet at a restaurant but that Guerriau suggested they dine at his home instead.
Her lawyer, Julia Minkowski, told AFP that her client felt unwell after drinking a glass of champagne and had seen the senator “grabbing a small plastic bag containing something white in a drawer in his kitchen”. Josso then realised that he was trying to drug her without her knowledge, the counsel added.
“She had to deploy monumental physical and intellectual forces to overcome her terror and extricate herself at the last minute from this ambush,” Minkowski said, adding that her client was “in a state of shock”.
Josso was admitted to hospital for tests, which revealed the presence of ecstasy in her system. The lawmaker subsequently lodged a complaint.
Guerriau’s lawyer denied his client intended to assault the lawmaker, claiming it was a “handling error” that caused her to fall ill. The senator “will fight to prove he never intended to administer a substance to his colleague and longstanding friend to abuse her”, Drai said in a statement to the press.
Who is Guerriau?
A former banker, Guerriau has been a member of the Senate, the French parliament’s upper house, since 2011, representing the western Loire-Atlantique region. He currently serves as deputy head of its foreign affairs and defence committee.
Guerriau joined Horizons, the party created by former prime minister Edouard Philippe, in 2022, having previously been involved with a variety of centre-right parties. He was also deputy head of Les Indépendants, the group he sits with in the French Senate.
Guerriau’s lawyer said his client was “not a predator”, describing him as “an honest man, respected and respectable, who will restore his and his family’s honour”.
The senator was previously unknown to the general public, though he made waves on social media in December 2016 when a post on the Islamic State (IS) group appeared on his Twitter account with a close-up picture of a penis. Guerriau claimed his account had been hacked and vowed to press charges, but later dropped the matter.
Who is Josso?
Josso is a member of the lower-house National Assembly, also from Loire-Atlantique. She was first elected in 2017 under the banner of Macron’s fledgling party La République en Marche (LREM) and is now a member of its centrist ally MoDem.
Her lawyer said Guerriau “had been a friend for around 10 years in whom she had complete confidence”, stressing her client’s “feeling of betrayal and total incomprehension”.
What has been the response among the political class?
Several politicians have expressed their shock on social media and called for a swift investigation.
The allegations, “if proven, are horrific”, Environment Minister Christophe Béchu, a member of Horizons, told France Inter radio on Friday, adding that Guerriau “can obviously no longer remain in the party (…) if there is any element of doubt”.
🇫🇷 Les sanctions politiques sont rapidement tombées contre le sénateur Joël Guerriau, mis en examen car soupçonné d’avoir drogué une députée à son insu: il a été suspendu par son parti, Horizons, et son groupe parlementaire, qui pourraient l’exclure définitivement #AFP pic.twitter.com/oDgZq87BGy
— Agence France-Presse (@afpfr) November 18, 2023
Horizons’ political bureau voted unanimously on Saturday to suspend Guerriau “with immediate effect”. Bureau members said they were “deeply shocked by the facts at the root of the accusations” and had initiated a “disciplinary procedure that could lead to (the senator’s) permanent exclusion”.
The party said it would “never tolerate the slightest complacency toward sexual and sexist violence” and promised to call the plaintiff to express its support and solidarity.
Guerriau’s Senate group released a statement shortly after, saying it had also suspended the senator and initiated disciplinary proceedings.
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