French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin looks on as he visits a police station in Beauvais, north of Paris, on March 5, 2021. Image Credit: AFP

Paris: French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin arrived at the Paris courthouse Friday to be questioned for the first time alongside a woman who says he raped her over a decade ago, a claim he has denied.

Sophie Patterson-Spatz also accuses Darmanin, a rightwing stalwart of President Emmanuel Macron's government, of sexual harassment and abuse of power.

She says she was raped in 2009 after seeking Darmanin's help to have a criminal record expunged while he was a legal affairs adviser with the UMP, the predecessor of France's main right-wing party, the Republicans.

The case was thrown out in 2018 after prosecutors said a preliminary inquiry had not shown an "absence of consent" nor that she acted "under constraint, threat, surprise or any sort of violence".

But Patterson-Spatz succeeded in having the case reopened last June, not least because she never had the chance to confront Darmanin directly in the presence of a judge.

Feminist groups were furious when Macron decided a few weeks later to name Darmanin interior minister - effectively France's "top cop" - even as France was grappling with a wave of sexual assault allegations sparked by the #MeToo movement.

He was questioned as a witness in December, and so far has not been charged.

Darmanin, who says he had consensual sex with Patterson-Spatz, has responded with his own defamation lawsuit.

"You have to realise what it means to be wrongfully accused, to have to explain to your parents what happened, because it's true that I had a young man's life," he told a regional newspaper in July.