In Depth

Gabriel Matzneff: paedophile charges against author shame French establishment

Renaudot prize winner boasted of sexually abusing boys as young as eight

French police have raided the offices of one of the country’s biggest publishers in a search for material written by an author at the heart of a paedophile scandal.

Investigators scoured the Paris premises of the Gallimard company on Wednesday in a bid to find unpublished writings by Gabriel Matzneff, who has been charged with rape.

Who is Matzneff?

The 83-year-old writer has never made any secret about his preference for sexual relations with adolescent girls and boys, yet he has been “tolerated and admired in French cultural circles and was at times supported by the political establishment at the highest levels”, says The Guardian. 

In 2013, Matzneff was awarded the prestigious Renaudot literary prize.

“For decades, he was celebrated for writing and talking openly about stalking teenage girls outside schools in Paris and having sexual contact with eight-year-old boys in the Philippines,” says The New York Times (NYT) journalist Norimitsu Onishi.

Matzneff’s published works contain meticulous details not only about the adolescents and children he has preyed upon but also the individuals who helped him groom them.

“Sometimes, I’ll have as many as four boys — from eight- to 14-years old — in my bed at the same time, and I’ll engage in the most exquisite lovemaking with them,” he wrote in his diary Un Galop d’Enfer (“Racing Forward”) published in 1985.

In his latest published diary, Mes Amours Decomposes (“My Broken-down Loves”), he boasts about having sex with countless children, including 11- and 12-year-old Filipino boys he describes as “a rare spice”.–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––For a round-up of the most important stories from around the world - and a concise, refreshing and balanced take on the week’s news agenda - try The Week magazine. Start your trial subscription today –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

What are the charges against him?

Police are investigating accusations that Matzneff sexually abused a child under the age of 15 in France, and have appealed for witnesses and other victims to come forward.

The writer also faces separate legal action over his work that describes his abuse of young people. Anti-paedophile organisation L’Ange Bleu (Blue Angel) is suing Matzneff for “glorification of paedophilia”.

This case will be heard in September by a French court that specialises in questions of freedom of expression. L’Ange Bleu plans to cite articles that appeared in three French publications - l’Os, l’Express and Le Parisien - that relate to his relationship with Vanessa Springora, a publisher who has written about being groomed by Matzneff.

The pair had a sexual relationship in the mid-1980s, when she was 14 and he was 50. Her book, Le Consentement (“Consent”), describes how she was seduced by Matzneff, and the lasting scars she has suffered.

Francois Busnel, host of French TV’s literature show La Grande Librairie, has described the cultural shift following the publication of Springora’s book as “the #MeToo of the French publishing world”.

Springora had said she did not want to bring a criminal complaint against Matzneff, but Paris prosecutors subsequently opened an investigation of their own accord.

Chief prosecutor Remy Heitz said the inquiry would look at the claims made by Springora and “work to identify all other eventual victims who could have been subjected to crimes of the same nature in France or abroad”, in order to ensure there were “no forgotten victims”.

What has Matzneff said?

Matzneff was approached earlier this month by NYT reporter Onishi in the Italian Riviera hotel where, in the words of the journalist, he is “in hiding”.

“After some persuading”, Matzneff expressed his views on the police investigation against him, saying: “Who are they to judge? These associations of the virtuous, how do they sleep, what do they do in bed and who do they sleep with, and their secret, repressed desires?”

The writer said he was “very, very lonely”, and expressed bewilderment about the shift in public opinion against him, but showed no remorse for his past actions or writings.

Who are his establishment friends?

Matzneff is known to have socialised with far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen and was invited for lunch at the Elysee Palace at least once by then president Francois Mitterrand, in 1984.

In 1986, police in Paris summoned the author for questioning after receiving anonymous letters stating that he was staying in his apartment with Springora, then 14. But as the NYT’s Onishi writes, “when he went to the station, Mr Matzneff had a talisman in his pocket”: an article praising him written by Mitterrand for a small literary magazine.

When detectives saw the cut-out copy of the article, they dismissed the anonymous tips they had received about the author’s conduct.

“One of the detectives had told me, ‘They’re forms of envy, these anonymous letters, it’s no doubt envy,’” Matzneff recalled.

Mitterrand socialised with and celebrated Matzneff even after the author published an unmitigated defence of paedophilia in 1974 titled Les Moins de Seize Ans (“Under 16 Years Old”).

The celebrated writer was also close to Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, the business tycoon Pierre Berge. Matzneff claims that the late fashion designer paid his accommodation bills for two years when he moved into a hotel with the teenage Springora to evade scrutiny of their relationship.

“‘For us, it’s a drop in the ocean, it’s nothing, and we love you,’” Christophe Girard, then Saint Laurent’s close aide and now deputy for culture to the mayor of Paris, is alleged to have told Matzneff. 

His other friends included novelist and fellow Renaudot prize winner Christian Giudicelli, who hid incriminating letters and photographs of Springora for Matzneff.

Referring to Matzneff’s decades-long support from the French establishment, Pierre Verdrager, a sociologist who has studied paedophilia, said: “We’re in a very egalitarian society where there is a pocket of resistance that actually behaves like an aristocracy.” 

The eventual withdrawal of that support after the police launched their investigation has angered Matzneff.  

“They’re showing their cowardice,” he told Onishi. “We can say caution, but it’s more than caution from people I considered friends.”


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