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French budget minister faces new sex allegations

Prosecutors have dropped a probe into allegations of rape against Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin, but he is still under investigation over allegations from another women. He has denied all the allegations

Paris prosecutors are investigating a second claim that influential French Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin used his past political position to seek sexual favours, it emerged on Wednesday.

Darmanin, a 35-year-old ambitious right-winger, was questioned by police earlier this month over allegations that he pressured a woman into sex in return for promising to help clear her name in a legal dispute.

He denies the allegations and is suing for defamation.

On Tuesday, Paris prosecutors opened a further preliminary investigation soon after another woman filed a separate complaint, according to a judicial source.

She claims Darminin used his position as mayor of the northern French town of Tourcoing in 2015 and 2016 to ask for sexual favours in return for helping her with a housing problem.

"She asked to be rehoused and at that moment Gerald Darmanin is accused of having made advances," Le Point magazine reported on Wednesday in allegations that were confirmed to AFP by a legal source.

Darminin is a confident media performer and has built a strong reputation in the first cross-party cabinet put together by President Emmanuel Macron after his victory last May.

He took a leading role in defending the government's first annual budget last year that cut taxes for business owners and investors.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe issued a statement saying that it was "important to leave the justice system to do its work and to make sure that we respect the rights of everyone" including the right to the presumption of innocence.

Macron's government has previously closed ranks around Darmanin and popular environment minister Nicolas Hulot, who faced allegations last week that he raped the granddaughter of former French president Francois Mitterrand in 1997.

The allegations were never investigated. Hulot, a former celebrity environmentalist, denied them.