Russian artist and girlfriend held over release of Paris politician's sex video

Kim Willsher in Paris
Photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP via Getty Images

The girlfriend of a Russian performance artist and activist who released a video of a sexual nature that prompted a Paris mayoral candidate to stand down is being questioned by police over her role in the scandal.

The woman was taken into custody along with the artist, Petr Pavlensky, on Saturday afternoon as they left a Paris hotel. They are being questioned over accusations of invasion of privacy and “broadcasting images of a sexual nature without the permission of the person involved”.

Detectives arrested the pair after Benjamin Griveaux, a former government minister, lodged a legal complaint following the release of videos of him performing a sex act on himself.

Russian-born Pavlensky, 36, who was granted political asylum in France in 2017, has admitted publishing the videos on a pornographic political website last week, saying he did so to highlight Griveaux’s “hypocrisy”. Police have been searching for Pavelensky since December after being called to a knife fight and also want to question him over this incident.

On Friday, Griveaux, a former minister and spokesman for Emmanuel Macron’s centrist La République en Marche (LREM) party, announced he was standing down as a candidate for Paris mayor to protect his family from what he described as a “vile” campaign.

Griveaux, a married father of three, had made family values a major part of his election campaign. The videos were reportedly made in May 2018 and sent to the so far unnamed woman – a 29-year-old from eastern France who French press said was Pavlensky’s “companion” – along with a series of text messages.

Richard Malka, Griveaux’s lawyer, dismissed as “preposterous” Pavlensky’s defence that he was exposing political hypocrisy.

“I have rarely come across anyone so cynical. This is an absolute sham, with pseudo artists who think they’re in a dictatorship and need to give moral lessons,” Malka told LCI television. “Of course, I do not believe he acted alone at all.”

Juan Branco, a lawyer for Pavlensky and his girlfriend, accused police of using the scandal to “deprive my clients of their freedom”, adding: “I would like the government to take responsibility for its acts.”

The Paris prosecutor’s office confirmed it was holding the pair. Police are trying to establish whether the woman was Pavlensky’s accomplice in the broadcasting of the films or whether her phone was hacked.

In France, so-called revenge porn is a crime punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of up to €60,000.

Macron and his LREM party are struggling to find a candidate to take challenge the current mayor, Anne Hidalgo, who is seeking a second six-year mandate in next month’s local elections.

A previous contender, Cédric Villani, an LREM MP, was threatened with expulsion from the party for refusing to make way for Griveaux.