Drugs, sex…and a dead cat? Plot thickens in French senator MP case

The senator has denied all charges after an MP claimed she began to feel unwell at his home after drinking a glass of Champagne

A view of someone pouring a glass of Champagne
MP Sandrine Josso (right) claimed she began to feel ill after having had a drink of Champagne at the home of Senator Guerriau (left) last week
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A French senator is suspected of drugging an MP with a view to sexually assaulting her - but he denies the charges and claims the drugs were meant for him as he struggled with the death of his 20-year-old cat.

Senator Joël Guerriau, 66, of the Horizons party, is in police custody being questioned over the incident.

The former banker has been in the Senate since 2011 and was previously mayor of Saint-Sébastien-sur-Loire (Loire-Atlantique) between 1995 and 2017.

What is known about this case?

Late in the evening of November 14, the MP Sandrine Josso, 48, claimed she began to feel ill after having had a glass of Champagne at the home of Senator Guerriau.

The two are not in a romantic relationship but they had been friends for around 10 years.

She has alleged that the senator was acting “strangely” and that she saw him “holding a little plastic bag containing something white”.

Ms Josso said that she broke out in a cold sweat, her heart rate accelerated and she began to feel dizzy. Despite this, she managed to leave the premises without alerting Senator Guerriau and returned to the Assemblée Nationale, where she and two colleagues called emergency services.

After traces of drugs were found in her system, Ms Josso lodged a complaint the following morning.

Ms Josso was elected as an MP in 2017 and then again in 2022 and represents the 7th constituency of Loire-Atlantique.

What was the drug in question?

The public prosecutor's office found ecstasy (MDMA) in samples taken from Ms Josso.

Later, searches of Senator Guerriau’s office and home found the same substance. Tests on the senator himself found traces of amphetamines, opiates, cannabis, cocaine, methadone and MDMA in his system.

Ms Josso’s lawyer has said that she is “in a state of shock”, and “had to deploy monumental physical and intellectual forces to overcome her terror” during the incident. She also has a feeling of “betrayal and total incomprehension” at the alleged actions of someone she had considered a long-time friend.

What is the latest on the case?

Senator Guerriau is accused of “administering, without Sandrine Josso's knowledge, a substance likely to impair her discernment or control over her actions, in order to commit rape or sexual assault, and possession and use of substances classified as narcotics”.

The senator has denied the allegations. His lawyer Rémi-Pierre Drai told AFP that Senator Guerriau will “fight" to “show that he never wanted to administer a substance to his long-time work colleague and friend in order to abuse her”. He blamed the “dramatic unpleasantness” on a “handling error”.

What does a dead cat have to do with it?

Senator Guerriau has said that he obtained the drug - which he claimed to believe was a euphoriant, not ecstasy - from a member of the Senate for his own use.

He said he planned to take the drug himself in order to cope with what he described as personal struggles, including the visit of a friend who was ill with cancer and the death of his cat, which he had owned for 20 years.

What political sanctions has the senator faced?

He has been suspended by his party Horizons and his parliamentary group, and could later be excluded permanently if the disciplinary proceedings demand it.

He has also been suspended, and further disciplinary proceedings begun, from the Les Indépendants party in the Senate, for which he sits. He risks expulsion from here too.

Senate President Gérard Larcher has asked Senator Guerriau to “withdraw from all activities related to his mandate”.

What criminal sanctions could he face?

Such an offence is punishable by up to five years' imprisonment and a fine of €75,000. This penalty can be increased to seven years' imprisonment and a €100,000 fine if the offence is committed against a minor under the age of 15.

Senator Guerriau remains in police custody. His case is set to be heard in January.

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