PARIS — When a small group of demonstrators gathered in front of City Hall last month to demand the resignation of a powerful deputy mayor, one stood out among the clutch of mostly feminist activists: Aniss Hmaïd.
A 46-year-old man of Tunisian descent, Mr. Hmaïd had quietly joined the protest that day against Christophe Girard, a cultural power broker and fixture of Paris politics for a generation. The demonstrators wanted Mr. Girard gone for his longstanding support of the pedophile writer Gabriel Matzneff. But Mr. Hmaïd says he had a more personal reason to be there.
Starting at age 15, when they met in Tunisia, Mr. Girard engaged him in a decade-long abusive relationship that left lasting psychological scars, Mr. Hmaïd told The New York Times, making his story public for the first time.
He asserts that Mr. Girard sexually abused him when he was 16, and then over the following years coerced him for sex on about 20 occasions.
In return, Mr. Hmaïd says, Mr. Girard employed him occasionally as a houseboy at his summer home in southern France and gave him temporary jobs at the Yves Saint Laurent design house, where Mr. Girard was a top executive before entering politics.
“He took advantage of my youth, of my young age and everything for his sexual pleasures,” Mr. Hmaïd said from his home near Paris. “It ruined my life, in fact. Today, I consider myself scorched earth.’’
In an interview, Mr. Girard denied sexual relations with Mr. Hmaïd, calling the accusations slander. But he confirmed that in the 1990s he had employed Mr. Hmaïd, whom he came to consider “one of the children of the family.”
Mr. Matzneff has long identified Mr. Girard as a benefactor and friend, even as Mr. Girard has tried to minimize their ties, including in an interview with The Times. But the charge that he himself has engaged in sexual abuse is new.
Just a few hours after the small protest outside City Hall, Mr. Girard surprised everyone by abruptly resigning. He is now the most high-profile figure to get caught in the fallout of the Matzneff scandal, which started this year when one of the writer’s former victims, Vanessa Springora, published a book chronicling how Mr. Matzneff took advantage of her when she was 14 and he was 50.
The account led to a police investigation in which Mr. Girard and other well-known individuals were summoned as witnesses. Mr. Matzneff, 84, was also charged with promoting pedophilia.
Mr. Matzneff’s case has set off a broad reckoning over sex, gender and power in France, which has only intensified with Mr. Girard’s resignation. Mr. Girard attributed his downfall to “a new McCarthyism and the rise of cancel culture,” and his former boss, Mayor Anne Hidalgo, described him as the “victim of an unacceptable outpouring of hate and violence.”
The Matzneff scandal has prompted others to come forward, including Francesca Gee, who, at age 15, was caught in a relationship with Mr. Matzneff. She said it was abusive, though it was not illegal in France, which prohibits sex between an adult and a minor only under the age of 15.
In his telling, Mr. Hmaïd’s story pivots on similar imbalances of age, power and prestige, but also on the enduring disparity between France and its former colonies like Tunisia, where some Frenchmen continue to seek casual sexual liaisons.
“It’s racism, sexual abuse, a form of cultural abuse, of colonialism,’’ Mr. Hmaïd said.
Mr. Hmaïd contacted The Times following the publication of an article detailing Mr. Matzneff’s network of supporters, including Mr. Girard. In a series of interviews since March, he said he saw himself reflected in the teenage girls abused by Mr. Matzneff.
He, too, he says, fell under the emotional sway of an older man, who introduced him to the world of culture and represented “a door to success’’ in France.
Mr. Hmaïd’s father and younger brother, as well as a former girlfriend and a former colleague, said he told them of the abuse by Mr. Girard about two decades ago. Mr. Hmaïd’s current partner, a doctor, said he told her at the start of their relationship in 2014.
Mr. Hmaïd also gave The Times documentation to back up his account: certificates of employment at Yves Saint Laurent and pay slips and more than a hundred photographs of Mr. Hmaïd in the company of Mr. Girard, his family and friends. One photograph showed Mr. Girard in full-frontal nudity.
Mr. Girard said he did not remember how Mr. Hmaïd obtained the jobs at Yves Saint Laurent, adding that they were perhaps through Pierre Bergé, the co-founder of the design house who died in 2017 and who had been “fond” of Mr. Hmaïd. But Mr. Hmaïd said he met Mr. Bergé only once and barely spoke to him.
As for the photos, Mr. Girard said they were taken while Mr. Hmaïd was in his employment and that the nude one was not taken after a sexual encounter together, as Mr. Hmaïd claims.
In the archives, there was also a souvenir of a trip they took to Orlando, Fla: a ticket stub dated July 29, 1990, to Disney World.
A Meeting at 15
Aniss Hmaïd was 15 in the summer of 1989 in Hammamet, a Tunisian resort town where the French socialized in their whitewashed villas and at luxury hotels with names like Sinbad and Aladdin.
His parents had emigrated to France years earlier. In Paris, his mother worked as a cleaning lady and his father as a receptionist.
In Hammamet, he lived with an older cousin who worked as a cook at a French-owned villa and got him a summer job there as a houseboy.
It was there that Mr. Girard showed up with a son and two friends for about a month, Mr. Hmaïd recounted.
Mr. Girard, who said he vacationed at least twice in Hammamet, was 33 at the time and the right-hand man of Mr. Bergé at Yves Saint Laurent. Bisexual, Mr. Girard said he’d had serious relationships with both women and men.
Friendly from the start, Mr. Girard asked the adolescent to refer to him by using the informal “tu,” Mr. Hmaïd recalled.
Mr. Hmaïd said the older man asked him to accompany him twice to a hammam, or bathhouse, which he did. The second time, at Mr. Girard’s request, the teenager gave him a back massage, Mr. Hmaïd said.
Mr. Girard denied ever going to a hammam. He described Mr. Hmaïd, at age 15, as “sophisticated,” “ambitious” and “mature.”
“He was a charmer,” he said.
That same summer, Mr. Hmaïd said, Mr. Girard met his parents, who went to vacation in Hammamet. Mr. Girard said that he met the father, or talked to him by phone, but that he could not remember details.
At the end of the summer, the adolescent was told by his parents to join them in France.
In Paris a few months later, his mother handed him Mr. Girard’s phone number.
“‘Call him,’” she told her son. “‘You can work for him the way you did at the villa.’”
Pressure for Sex
Mr. Girard immediately offered him a dream job: Mind two of his young sons on a monthlong trip to the United States.
Dozens of photos from the trip show Mr. Hmaïd in the company of Mr. Girard, the two boys and friends — at Disney World, the Statue of Liberty, in front of the White House and on the beach at Fire Island in New York.
At hotels, while the boys slept in their own room, Mr. Girard insisted that Mr. Hmaïd share a bed in his room to cut down on costs, Mr. Hmaïd recalled.
One night in Washington, Mr. Hmaïd said, he woke up to find Mr. Girard masturbating him. He was 16 at the time and says it was his first sexual experience.
“I was petrified, and then he told me, ‘This stays between us,’” Mr. Hmaïd said, adding that for the rest of the trip he insisted on sleeping in a separate room.
Mr. Girard denied that any such thing took place. He said he did not understand why Mr. Hmaïd would accuse him of sexual abuse, questioning why he had waited decades to come forward and saying he was inventing stories to capitalize on the Matzneff affair in search of a book deal.
“There’s an entire novel there — he’s certainly going to be able to find an editor,” Mr. Girard said.
Told that four people had confirmed hearing of the abuse from Mr. Hmaïd two decades ago, Mr. Girard said, “You can lie to four people.”
After the trip to the United States, the teenager worked as a houseboy for Mr. Girard. After he turned 18, he got temporary jobs at Yves Saint Laurent, in inventory and as a liaison representative, according to pay slips and employment certificates on company letterhead.
From 16 to 24, Mr. Girard pressured him into sex about 20 times, Mr. Hmaïd said.
After one such encounter, Mr. Hmaïd said, he used his camera to take the nude photo of Mr. Girard, who is seen standing at the foot of a bed, looking into the camera with a smile.
Shown the photo, Mr. Girard said that it appeared to be a personal picture that Mr. Hmaïd had “stolen” or photographed after a swim.
Mr. Hmaïd said each encounter left him disgusted.
“I can say that I was consenting,” he said. “But overall, I was caught in a somewhat strange trap. My parents encouraged me to see him. Me, I was hoping for something, a job, something like that out of it.”
Mr. Hmaïd recalled being in awe of the older man and his friends, who effortlessly engaged in witty conversations and displayed a “refined way of unpacking life, human relations.” Spending time with them, he said, taught him everything from good table manners to proper French.
But by his mid-20s, feeling exploited, Mr. Hmaïd said he began trying to hold Mr. Girard accountable, leading to the end of their ties.
Mr. Hmaïd said he told his family about the abuse in the late 1990s, estranging him from his father and devastating his mother.
“She was stunned, she was in tears,” said Mr. Hmaïd’s brother, Aymen Hmaïd, 39.
His father, Nouri Hmaïd, 75, told The Times that the cousin who had gotten Aniss the summer job in Hammamet had warned him that Mr. Girard “was not a good man — he took advantage of boys.”
Still, he said, he did not worry for his son, who still feels betrayed though he believes that his parents were naïve.
Mr. Hmaïd said he considered reporting Mr. Girard to the authorities. But his mother, who died a couple of years after her son’s revelations, had dissuaded him.
Mr. Girard was too powerful, she warned.
‘They Stick Together’
It was not only his record as deputy of culture in Paris for 13 years that brought Mr. Girard power.
Even as he served in government, Mr. Girard was a longtime top executive at LVMH, the luxury goods empire, raising questions of conflict of interest.
He oversaw a cultural budget of $500 million, including the allocation of $100 million in subsidies. That influence had made Mr. Girard nearly untouchable.
That was, until the Matzneff scandal, when some members of the Green Party — a governing partner of Mayor Hidalgo’s Socialists — stated their opposition to him.
To Alice Coffin, a newly elected Green councilor, Mr. Girard embodied an establishment “ensconced for years in an exercise of power that prevents them from questioning themselves.”
Mr. Matzneff’s supporters in politics, publishing and the media have largely closed ranks.
And a day after his resignation, officials gave Mr. Girard a standing ovation at City Hall.
“They stick together,” Mr. Hmaïd said, “because they’re on the same side.”
Daphné Anglès and Théophile Larcher contributed research.
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