A mayor in France has been formally put under investigation over allegations he used an erotic videotape to blackmail his former deputy.
Gaël Perdriau, mayor of Saint-Étienne (Loire), has already been expelled from the right-wing Les Républicains party over the claim.
Recordings released in August 2022 by Mediapart suggested Mr Perdriau had acquired (or at least knew about) the tape, which allegedly shows Gilles Artigues receiving an erotic massage from a male escort in a Paris hotel in 2014-2015.
Mr Perdriau and his former team members are suspected of using the tape to blackmail Mr Artigues, who is a centrist politician, and known to be a conservative Catholic. He was Mr Perdriau’s deputy from 2014 to 2022.
Mr Perdriau was first taken into custody in connection with the case last year, along with four members of his team (former cabinet director Pierre Gauttieri, former deputy Samy Kéfi-Jérôme, and Mr Kéfi-Jérôme’s former partner, Gilles Rossary-Lenglet).
Mediapart said that the video had been filmed by Mr Kéfi-Jérôme, and was a set-up deliberately designed to catch out Mr Artigues. The escort himself, although paid for by Mr Kéfi-Jérôme, was reportedly not aware of the alleged trick.
Mediapart wrote: “After this evening at the hotel, Samy Kéfi-Jérôme returned to Saint-Étienne with a raw video of 30 minutes 33 seconds in which the escort performs an erotic massage on Gilles Artigues. The latter appears naked on the bed, the escort shirtless.
“The film does not show any sexual relations, but its content is sufficiently compromising.”
Eight years later, Mr Artigues made a formal complaint for “aggravated blackmail, organised ambush, misappropriation of public funds and failure to report criminal acts".
He took so long to make a complaint and only did so now, his lawyer André Buffard said, because he wanted to “protect his family and his loved ones”. Mr Buffard said that Mr Artigues even suspected he may have been drugged during the incident.
Mr Artigues has said that the incident has “ruined his life”. Writing on Facebook, he thanked supporters for their messages, but said he had even been “tempted to leave this beautiful life, so desperate have I felt” as a result of the “victimisation”.
More recordings released by Mediapart reportedly implicate the four men in accessing €50,000 of public money as a result of the video and blackmail using it.
One tape includes Mr Perdriau saying the following phrase: “There are things you did together. For example, with the Artigues hit, there were two of you.” This suggests that he was aware of the incident.
Another recording features Mr Gauttieri telling Mr Artigues: “I have a video of you with your butt in the air with a guy. The very Catholic MP Gilles Artigues, a very good family man, involved in something like this? How will you explain that to voters?”
Mediapart has now said that other “previously unheard facts once again put into doubt practices by the mayor of Saint-Étienne, especially in the use of rumour as a political instrument”.
It said that this time the victim of the alleged blackmail was the president of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, Laurent Wauquiez. Mr Perdriau initially obtained a publication ban for this, saying that it amounted to an “attack on his private life”. However, Mediapart later got permission to publish, citing the ban as “censorship”.
The new revelations included another recording, made by Mr Artigues in the mayor’s office. In it, Mr Perdriau can reportedly be heard accusing Mr Wauquiez of being a “paedo criminal”. During a press conference, Mr Perdriau later admitted to making “rude remarks” that were “unfounded”.
Despite all allegations and recordings, Mr Perdriau has always maintained his innocence in the case and denied the claims made against him. He denies especially having been involved in the Mr Artigues video sting.
His lawyer this week stated that he has been once again placed under judicial supervision for questioning. For now, he is still able to exercise his mandate as mayor.
He has previously said that he will not step down from his position.
He has, however, been expelled from Les Républicains. In a statement, party general secretary Aurélien Pradié said: “Les Républicains can only condemn these low methods used by the mayor of Saint-Étienne against a political rival.”
In response to his expulsion, Mr Perdriau said: “I am deeply hurt.”