Gabriel Matzneff, who wrote for years about paedophilia, is charged

  • Norimitsu Onishi, The New York Times
    Published: 2020-02-12 14:16:15 BdST

Gabriel Matzneff, the French writer who talked openly for decades about engaging in paedophilia, was charged on Wednesday in a Paris court with promoting the sexual abuse of children.

Matzneff, who has been in hiding in the Italian Riviera and did not appear in court, was accused of defending and justifying paedophilia through his many books and public appearances, according to the case filed by l’Ange Bleu, an anti-paedophilia organisation.

The court set September 2021 as the start of the trial, which will scrutinise not only the author’s actions but also those of the French elite who published his books, promoted his career and even helped him evade justice.

“Everyone will have to take responsibility,” l’Ange Bleu’s lawyer, Méhana Mouhou, said after the hearing.

Matzneff was represented in court by his longtime lawyer and supporter, Emmanuel Pierrat, who is also president of the PEN Club in France, a writers’ association, and the secretary-general of a museum in Paris devoted to the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, who died in 2008 and was one of Matzneff’s benefactors. Pierrat declined to comment.

The French writer Gabriel Matzneff in the Italian Riviera on Feb 1, 2020. Matzneff has been summoned to appear in a Paris court on Wednesday, Feb 12, accused of actively promoting paedophilia through his books. The New York Times

The French writer Gabriel Matzneff in the Italian Riviera on Feb 1, 2020. Matzneff has been summoned to appear in a Paris court on Wednesday, Feb 12, accused of actively promoting paedophilia through his books. The New York Times

L’Ange Bleu is using a special legal procedure to force Matzneff to stand trial, arguing that its interests as an organisation devoted to fighting paedophilia were damaged by Matzneff’s long-standing promotion of paedophilia. If convicted in that case, Matzneff, 83, could face up to five years in prison.

Although Matzneff is not scheduled to appear in court until next year in the case brought by the anti-paedophilia organisation, he could face legal challenges sooner if prosecutors decide to charge him in specific cases of abuse.

Prosecutors, who have been criticised in recent weeks for their long inaction despite Matzneff’s avowed paedophilia, are moving on a separate track that could lead to more criminal charges.

They said on Tuesday that they would actively seek other victims of the author, and on Wednesday they raided for the second time the headquarters of Gallimard, one of Matzneff’s publishers, to seize more of his books and manuscripts, according to the French news media.

Matzneff openly talked and wrote about paedophilia, but the dynamic changed after the publication last month of “Le Consentement” (“Consent”) by Vanessa Springora, the first testimony by one of the writer’s underage victims.

Fuelling an abrupt cultural shift in France, the book touched off the sudden downfall of Matzneff, who was dropped by his three publishers, stripped of a rare benefit from the French government and abandoned by longtime supporters.

On Wednesday, Christophe Girard, the deputy for culture to the mayor of Paris, released a statement on his Twitter account acknowledging that he had arranged the payment by the Yves Saint Laurent design house of Matzneff’s hotel bills in the mid-1980s, as reported by The New York Times. Girard said he had followed the instructions of Pierre Bergé, the business tycoon and partner of Saint Laurent.

Girard also wrote that it was “possible’’ that when he occupied the same position in Paris in 2002, he had written a letter of support that won Matzneff a seldom-awarded lifetime annual stipend from the National Book Centre.

Until just a few weeks ago, Matzneff was recognised as a celebrated writer. He won one of France’s most prestigious literary awards in 2013. His most recent book, “L’Amante de l’Arsenal” (“The Mistress of the Arsenal”), came out three months ago in the prestigious “Collection Blanche” of Gallimard, regarded by many as France’s most distinguished publishing house. He had also enjoyed a wide audience through a column in the magazine Le Point.

As “Le Consentement” was about to be published, Matzneff left France to spend Christmas with friends in Rome, he said in a long interview with The New York Times, in which he asked that his exact location not be revealed.

Then, as the scandal broke in Paris and nearly all of Matzneff’s supporters ran for cover, Matzneff moved to a hotel in the Italian Riviera.

Matzneff, who said he did not know when he would return to Paris, will be compelled to appear at the start of the trial next year.

In many books, Matzneff writes about his relations with teenage girls in France and sex tourism in the Philippines with boys as young as 8. His breakthrough book as an author, from 1974, had the title “Les Moins de Seize Ans” (“Under 16 Years Old”).

As a transgressive figure rooted in French literary tradition, Matzneff appealed to many in France’s elite, in publishing, journalism, politics and business.

In the recent interview with The Times, Matzneff angrily defended himself, saying that he wrote about what many others did in secret, especially in the years following the May 1968 countercultural revolution.

“Even the silly things I might have done during those euphoric years of freedom, I wasn’t the only one,” he said. “What hypocrisy.”

Matzneff wrote in meticulous detail about his sexual history, especially in his diaries, which the anti-pedophilia group is planning to present in court as the main evidence of his conduct.

In the interview with the Times, Matzneff said he renounced nothing in his diaries — a stand that some admirers say reflects his full commitment to literature but now poses legal risks.

Matzneff said he made up nothing and hid nothing in his diaries. “To my mind, a diary is really of interest only if it deserves the title that Baudelaire gave to one of his, ‘My heart laid bare,’” Matzneff said, referring to the 19th-century French poet.

“A fake diary is of no interest,” he said, adding that, in real writing, “there has to be blood, there has to be sperm, there has to be life.”

But asked whether, in hindsight, he would write less candidly, he said, “At this moment, I’d tend to say yes, considering how the sky is falling on me.”

In “Le Consentement,” Springora, now 47, writes that she first met Matzneff when she was 13 and he was nearly 50. When she turned 14, they became involved sexually for two years, according to her account and Matzneff’s own diary of the era, “La prunelle des mes yeux,” (“The apple of my eye”).

Springora writes that the relationship led to years of depression and other psychological problems.

In France, it was, and remains illegal, for an adult to have sex with a minor under the age of 15, although judges have broad leeway to decide what punishment, if any, to impose.

“I am who I am, in good and in evil,” Matzneff said in the recent interview. “My books are there. When I’ll be gone, they’ll judge my books.”


© 2019 New York Times News Service