The editor of French Closer faces the possibility of a one-year jail sentence after the actress Julie Gayet brought a criminal complaint against the magazine for invasion of privacy.
Gayet, 41, who was alleged by the magazine last month to be having an affair with President François Hollande, is already suing Closer for damages in the civil courts.
It emerged on Tuesday that she had also taken the less usual course of filing a criminal complaint against Closer for violating her right to a private life.
The newspaper Le Monde said that the public prosecutor in Nanterre, west of Paris, had ordered a preliminary police investigation.
Relatively few criminal complaints for invasion of privacy are made in France. Civil suits are more rapid and more lucrative.
One exception was the criminal complaint against Closer brought in September last year by Prince William after the magazine published topless photographs of his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, sunbathing in the grounds of a chateau in the south of France. This case is moving slowly through the French criminal justice system.
The editor of a publication found guilty of invasion of privacy under criminal law faces a possible one year sentence and a fine of up to Euros 45,000. In practise, prison terms have never been imposed.
Nonetheless, Le Monde suggested today that Gayet’s complaint amounted to a “judicial offensive” against the editor of the magazine, Laurence Pieau, for smashing the barrier which had previously protected senior politicians in France from revelations on their private lives.
Her attempted criminal action is not based directly on the magazine’s claim that she conducted a two year clandestine affair with President Hollande. To take an action under criminal, as opposed to civil law, a plaintiff must be able to prove that a publication ran photographs taken in a “private place” or comments made in private.
Gayet has therefore taken an action against Closer for relatively innocuous photographs that it published on 17 January – the week after the initial revelations. These images showed the actress driving her white Citroen. A car is considered a “private place” by French courts.
Photographs published with the original claims on 10 January showed Gayet entering a building from the street and, separately, a man in a motor-cycle helmet, identified as President Hollande. All of these images were taken in a public place and could not form the basis of a criminal complaints for violation of privacy.
President Hollande is not – overtly at any rate – supporting Gayet’s action against Closer. He said last month that it would be unfair for the head of state, who enjoys legal immunity, to take a legal action against someone else.