French prosecutors have opened an investigation into Gerald Marie, the former European boss of the Elite model agency, over allegations of rape, including of a minor.
It follows a complaint against Marie, the ex-husband of the supermodel Linda Evangelista, from a former BBC journalist and claims of abuse by three ex-models, the Paris prosecutor’s office said.
A specialist child protection unit will lead the investigation into allegations of “rape and sexual assault, as well as rape and sexual assault of a minor,” the office said.
The investigation will be based on criminal complaints lodged by women for alleged assaults between 1980 and 1988. Under the statute of limitations, this may be too long ago to be brought before a court now. This is one of the issues that must be determined by the investigation, which in France does not necessarily result in trial.
The former BBC journalist Lisa Brinkworth claimed that in October 1998, when she was posing as a model while doing an investigation, Marie sexually assaulted her in a nightclub, pushing his genitals against her abdomen.
She was working undercover on a documentary about allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour towards models – many of them underage – in certain agencies.
Brinkworth has said she was traumatised by the event but was prevented from coming forward by an agreement between the BBC and Elite in 2001 following a defamation suit.
Her lawyers hope this restriction on her speaking out can be a basis for bypassing the statute of limitations.
Brinkworth’s complaint is accompanied by claims from three former models of alleged rape by Marie in Paris when they were teenagers or young women.
Carré Sutton (formerly Otis) has accused Marie of “countless” rapes that allegedly happened in 1986, when she was 17, Ebba Karlsson of an incident in 1990 when she was 20 or 21, and Jill Dodd of one in 1980 when she was 19.
These alleged crimes may also be beyond the statute of limitations, which restricts the amount of time after an alleged offence that legal proceedings can be launched.
Marie’s lawyer could not be reached for comment on Monday. Over the weekend the former modelling boss “categorically” denied the claims to the Sunday Times.
The BBC also did not reply to a request for comment.
Brinkworth’s lawyer, Anne-Claire Lejeune, welcomed Monday’s announcement by the Paris prosecutors. “This investigation will, I hope, give others the courage to speak up,” she said. “This is an encouraging first step and a relief for the victims.”