France investigating Russian artist who claimed leak of Paris mayoral candidate’s sex videos

French police have opened investigations into the man who claimed responsibility for releasing sex videos that led to the ouster of President Emmanuel Macron’s preferred candidate in Paris’ upcoming mayoral elections, the city prosecutor’s office announced Tuesday.

Benjamin Griveaux, a former government spokesperson and member of Macron’s centrist La République En Marche party, quit the race last week after images surfaced reportedly depicting an online chat that included a video of a man’s genitals. It is alleged the chat was between Griveaux and a woman who isn’t his wife.

Pyotr Pavlensky, a refugee and Russian performance artist, claimed in a newspaper interview that he obtained the video from an unnamed source who had a relationship with Griveaux and released it to denounce the candidate’s “hypocrisy.”

Russian performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky arrives at the Paris courthouse in January 2019 as he goes on trial for setting fire to the facade of France's central bank.

Russian performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky arrives at the Paris courthouse in January 2019 as he goes on trial for setting fire to the facade of France's central bank. (AP)

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“He is someone who is always playing up family values, who says he wants to be the mayor of families and always cites as examples his wife and children. But he does the opposite,” Pavlensky reportedly told the Liberation newspaper.

Pavlensky is now being investigated over the matter in addition to a separate case involving “violence with a weapon” on New Year’s Eve. French news media report Pavlensky allegedly drew a knife during a dispute at a Paris apartment in which two people were hurt.

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Pavlensky was taken into custody over the weekend as part of an investigation into the New Year’s Eve incident, while his girlfriend was arrested in connection to the release of the videos. The prosecutor's office said it is pushing for a custody extension for both.

Griveaux filed a complaint Saturday for invasion of his private life, it added.

Critics, though, say Pavlensky's case is being politicized because Griveaux was Macron's candidate.

Paris mayoral candidate Benjamin Griveaux has dropped out of the upcoming Paris mayoral elections.

Paris mayoral candidate Benjamin Griveaux has dropped out of the upcoming Paris mayoral elections. (AP)

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Former Health Minister Agnes Buzyn was selected to replace Griveaux as the candidate in the two-round election that begins in a month.

Pavlensky, who has been granted asylum in France, has had trouble with the law before. He was convicted in January 2019 of setting fire to a Bank of France branch and damaging its facade in 2017. He was sentenced to a year in prison, plus a two-year suspended sentence. However, the judge allowed Pavlensky to walk free because he had already spent 11 months in pretrial detention.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.