French Finance Minister Michel Sapin admitted acting “inappropriately” towards a female journalist after twice denying any improper conduct with her, late on Monday.
Sapin acknowledged placing his hand on the woman’s back at a conference early last year - following two previous denials of a claim that he had tweaked her knicker elastic.
Sapin’s admission came on the heels of a scandal that broke on Monday when eight women accused a deputy parliamentary speaker, Denis Baupin, of sexually harassing them over a number of years.
Prosecutors have opened a preliminary investigation into the claims made by colleagues of Baupin in the ecologist EELV party.
Sapin said in a statement to AFP: “During a visit in January 2015 to Davos, in the middle of 20 people, I made a comment to a female journalist about her clothing while placing my hand on her back.
“There was no sexist or aggressive intent in my action, but the simple fact that I shocked the person in question shows that these words and actions were inappropriate, and I was and remain sorry.”
Sapin said he had immediately apologised to the journalist in question.
“In the minutes that followed (the incident), the journalist asked to see me face-to-face to tell me of her outrage. Of course, I apologised sincerely to her,” he said.
Yet when pressed about the incident a few hours earlier, Sapin told a very different story. “We are in a place of absolute libel... These are allegations that are totally false,” he told reporters.
The allegations first surfaced in April, when two other reporters published a book about the corridors of power titled “Elysee Off”.
The authors, Stephanie Marteau and Aziz Zemouri, claim the unnamed journalist in Davos was bending over to pick up a pen when Sapin said: “Ah, but what are you showing me here?” and snapped the elastic of her unintentionally exposed panties.
The alleged incident had been previously reported -without giving the minister’s name - as part of a 2015 petition in the Liberation newspaper signed by dozens of female journalists denouncing sexism from male politicians, titled “Get your paws off me!”