A minister accused of sexually assaulting two women he once worked with resigned Sunday in an apparent bid to spare the French government the kind of notoriety the opposition has faced since its leading man, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was charged with attempting to rape a Manhattan hotel maid.
A preliminary investigation was opened last week against George Tron, who served as a junior civil service minister, after two women alleged that he had attacked them between 2007 and 2010.
One of the women said she was inspired to come forward after a housekeeper at a luxury Manhattan hotel claimed she was sexually assaulted by Strauss-Kahn, 62, a leading presidential hopeful in next year's elections for the rival Socialist Party. He resigned his post as International Monetary Fund chief after charges were filed in New York.
Tron, 53, is a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative UMP party who joined the government just over a year ago.
Tron's resignation appeared to be damage control as Sarkozy primps his image for a likely re-election bid in the presidential race in a year's time. The popular Strauss-Kahn had been expected to run as the Socialist candidate for president.
Both Tron and Strauss-Kahn have denied any wrongdoing.
No replacement for Tron was immediately announced. It was widely reported that Budget Minister Francois Baroin would absorb Tron's functions, seamlessly filling the void in a move to keep the spotlight off the government.
A statement from Prime Minister Francois Fillon's office noted Tron has denied the allegations and praised him for acting in the "general interest."
Tron's lawyer, Olivier Schnerb, has said the allegations against him are "unjust" and he has received instructions from his client to sue the women for "malicious slander."
He claims the women were both fired from their jobs at the town hall of Draveil, south of Paris — where Tron has been mayor since 1995 — suggesting that they had a personal vendetta.
A preliminary investigation for rape and sexual assault was opened Wednesday against Tron. This initial probe allows prosecutors to decide whether to pursue or drop the case.
The two women, aged 34 and 36, have claimed that foot massages administered by Tron evolved into assault.
Tron is adept at foot reflexology, an alternative medicine based on the notion that zones of the foot correspond to certain body parts and pressure on those points can promote health.
The women told the newspaper Le Parisien last week that Tron assaulted them behind locked doors at the town hall.
One said she was too ashamed to tell anyone at first, but that she spoke out after the charges were brought in New York against Strauss-Kahn.
"When I saw that a chambermaid was capable of taking on Dominique Strauss-Kahn, I told myself I didn't have the right to keep quiet," said the woman, who was not identified by name.
"Other women may be suffering what I suffered. I have to help them. We have to break this code of silence."
In its online site, the newsweekly L'Express quoted Tron as vowing in his letter of resignation to "make (his) innocence known by combatting the vindictive allegations of two former colleagues," one he claimed was dismissed for allegedly pilfering funds in her care, the other for unfit behavior.