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French authorities open rape investigation after skating champion accuses ex-coach

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France's Sarah Abitbol in January 24, 2001, reacts after taking the bronze bronze medal in the Pair's free program of the European Figure Skating Championships in Bratislava
France's Sarah Abitbol in January 24, 2001, reacts after taking the bronze bronze medal in the Pair's free program of the European Figure Skating Championships in Bratislava   -  
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Olivier MORIN / AFP
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The Paris prosecutor has opened a rape and child sex abuse investigation after ice-skating champion Sarah Abitbol accused her ex-coach of raping her in the 1990s.

In a new book, the 10-time French champion and bronze medal winner in the pairs at the 2000 world championships said Gilles Beyer raped her when she was aged between 15 and 17.

"He [Beyer] started to do horrible things leading to sexual abuse and I was raped at 15," said Abitbol, now 44, in a video interview with L'Obs newspaper.

"It was the first time a man touched me."

"After analyzing the book, 'Such a Long Silence', the Paris public prosecutor opened a preliminary investigation under the counts of rape of minors by a person having authority over the victim," the prosecutor's office said in a statement.

More abuse cases

Beyond the accusations contained in the book, the prosecutor said investigators will seek to "identify any other victims who may have suffered, in the context described, similar offenses."

Another skater, Helene Godard, accused Beyer and another coach, Jean-Roland Racle, of sexual abuse when she was a minor.

Skaters Anne Bruneteaux and Béatrice Dumur also accused another coach, Michel Lotz, of abuse in the 1980s when they were just 13 years old.

Apology for 'inappropriate' relationship

Beyer, 62, admitted in a statement on Friday that he had an "intimate" and "inappropriate" relationship with Abitbol and offered her his "apologies".

Abitbol immediately rejected the apologies and told L'Obs newspaper that she was waiting for a second step "that will highlight the responsibility of all those who covered up [the crimes¨] both in the club and the federation."

Beyer, who continued his career as director of the French teams and national coach, was the subject of two professional investigations, including one by the sports ministry, in the early 2000s.

After the second investigation, the ministry terminated his contract as a technical advisor but he remained close to the skating federation.

Bertrand GUAY / AFP
French Sports Minister Roxana MaracineanuBertrand GUAY / AFP

'Dysfunction' in French skating

Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu on Monday summoned Didier Gailhaguet, the longtime chairman of the French ice-skating federation, to ask him why Beyer was kept at his post despite suspicions of sexual abuse.

"The weight of facts and their continuation over time illustrate that a general dysfunction exists within the federation," Maracineanu said after meeting with Gailhaguet, adding that he “cannot absolve himself of his moral and personal responsibility.”

The minister requested Gailhaguet to resign, which he refused, promising to "revelations" at a news conference on Wednesday.

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