A former top boss of one of the world’s biggest modelling agencies is under investigation in France over accusations of rape and sexual assault, prosecutors said on Monday.
Three ex-models accuse Gérald Marie, who was president of the European arm of Elite Model Management for 25 years, of raping or sexually assaulting them when they were aged 17, 19 and 20.
Mr Marie, 70, the former husband of the Canadian supermodel Linda Evangelista, denies the allegations, which date back to the 1980s and 1990s.
He is now chairman of a Paris modelling agency called Oui Management.
Lisa Brinkworth, a British journalist, also accuses him of assaulting her while she was working undercover on an exposé of the modelling industry for the BBC in 1998.
Ms Brinkworth said he rubbed his genitals against her abdomen in a nightclub while she was posing as a model for the investigation. She said she did not take legal action earlier because of an agreement between the BBC and Elite in 2001 following a defamation suit. The investigation is unlikely to lead to a trial because of France’s statute of limitations.
However, Anne-Claire Le Jeune, a lawyer for Ms Brinkworth and the other three women, said she hoped the agreement that discouraged the journalist from coming forward would be considered grounds for suspending the statute of limitations.
Carré Otis, an American model formerly married to the actor Mickey Rourke, has accused Mr Marie of "countless" rapes in 1986, when she was 17 and alone in Paris after moving there to work for Elite.
Jill Dodd, another American model, said he raped her in 1980, when she was 19. Ebba Karlsson, a Swedish model, said he assaulted her in 1990, when she was 20 or 21. The four women said they were making the allegations public in the hope of effecting a change in the modelling industry.
Ms Le Jeune said: “This investigation will, I hope, give others the courage to speak out. This is an encouraging first step and a relief for the victims.”
Ms Otis, who said she felt unable to speak at the time of the alleged attack, added she was doing so now to stop "intolerable acts by men in power who seem able to act in all impunity."
Mr Marie, still considered a leading figure in the model industry, has never been prosecuted.
He did not respond to requests for comment, but told the Sunday Times before prosecutors opened the investigation: “It would be inappropriate for me to comment at this time on the allegations of historic wrongdoing being made against me, other than to make it clear that I categorically deny them.”
He reportedly helped the careers of a number of top models including Naomi Campbell.
He married Linda Evangelista in 1987 and they divorced in 1993.
Ms Le Jeune is also representing women who allege they were sexually assaulted by Jean-Luc Brunel, a former French modelling agent alleged to have provided women for the convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
Mr Brunel has denied the allegations.