Rock star Hallyday denies sexual assault aboard yacht

the French rock star Johnny Hallyday is being accused of sexually assaulting a young woman who worked on his yacht.The 59-year-old singer's lawyer, Daniel Vaconsin, called the claim "blackmail" and said his client had faced similar baseless accusations for years.

M. Hallyday, whose real name is Jean-Philippe Smet, is also facing possible charges of threatening behaviour and inspiring malicious phone calls to a woman named only as Marie-Christine, 34, a stewardess on the luxury yacht Irina in 2001.

She says M. Hallyday came to her cabin, asked her to get him a drink, then sexually assaulted her. Two other members of the crew and a photographer friend of hers aboard are not thought to have heard anything.

Four days later the yacht arrived at Saint-Tropez and Ms Marie-Christine's employment contract was terminated. She was medically examined and had bruises and scratches on her body.

The chief prosecutor in Nice has opened an inquiry. M. Hallyday denies all charges and says he is ready to assist with all investigations. His lawyer has also claimed to have had phone calls from a representative of the accuser demanding €450,000 (£305,000) to drop all charges. Ms Marie-Christine said she had been traumatised and depressed. "My life has been turned upside down, I first went to live with my mother and then fled abroad."

She had waited a year, till June 2002, to report the alleged incident. Since then she said she had been harassed by telephone and threatened.