The man at the center of a sexual assault scandal that prompted the Swedish Academy to postpone this year’s Nobel Literature Prize denied two counts of rape as his first hearing ended on Wednesday.
Frenchman Jean-Claude Arnault was an influential figure on Stockholm’s cultural scene for decades, until the explosive sexual assault accusations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein sparked a wave of similar allegations around the world.
Married to Katarina Frostenson, a member of the Swedish Academy which has been selecting Nobel literature laureates since 1901, Arnault ran the Forum club in Stockholm.
It was a key meeting place for the cultural elite and a popular spot among aspiring young authors hoping to make contact with publishers and writers.
The case against him erupted a month after the rape and sexual abuse accusations against Weinstein which sparked the worldwide #MeToo campaign.
Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter in November 2017 published testimonies of 18 women claiming to have been raped, sexually assaulted or harassed by Arnault.
Wearing black-rimmed glasses, a dark suit, and a grey scarf around his neck, Arnault appeared in Stockholm’s district court on Wednesday to face two charges of rape against one woman.
“My client denies the charges,” his lawyer Bjorn Hurtig told the court.
The judge then ruled the proceedings would be held behind closed doors, as is common in rape cases in Sweden to protect the victim.
‘Painful for her’
Absent from the opening of the hearing, the plaintiff, whose identity has not been disclosed, arrived later and tried to cover her face in front of flashing cameras.
“This is painful for her as she’s gone through traumatic experiences, but she will be fine during her interrogation,” her lawyer Elisabeth Massi Fritz said.
According to the charge sheet, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, the 72-year-old allegedly forced the victim – who was in a state of “intense fear” – to have oral sex and intercourse in a Stockholm apartment on October 5, 2011.
Arnault, who faces up to six years in prison if found guilty, is also accused of raping her during the night of December 2-3 in the same apartment while she was asleep.
Massi Fritz, a well-known lawyer specializing in crimes against women, said there are “seven witnesses and a journal which back up the plaintiff’s story on the two counts of rape.”
Arnault’s lawyer Hurtig, however, said the accusations were difficult to prove.
“We’re talking about something that happened seven years ago between two people in a closed room,” he told reporters at the end of the first hearing.