PARIS: The Indian wife of a French consular official charged with raping their daughter has demanded a meeting with Francois Hollande this week, presenting the French president with a thorny diplomatic dilemma on his first state visit to India.
Lawyers for the official, Pascal Mazurier, were received at Hollande's Elysee Palace last week in a move greeted with furious incomprehension by the mother, Suja Jones Mazurier, and the women's and rights groups supporting her.
They accuse France of supporting the husband at the expense of the interests of the rape victim and her two siblings, who are all French nationals.
In a letter to Hollande's minister for women, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Algerian academic Marieme Helie Lucas argues the Elysee meeting was part of an orchestrated campaign in support of the father which amounts to an attempt to interfere with a criminal case going through the Indian courts.
"We were very surprised to learn, through the press, that only the advocates of the accused, the father of the young victim, have been received at the Elysee," Helie Lucas, a prominent rights campaigner, writes in the letter.
"We ask that you give your support to Ms Suja Jones's demand for a meeting with the president of the Republic during his upcoming visit to India."
Aides to Hollande now have to decide whether to grant Jones Mazurier some kind of audience. If they do, they will draw further attention to a case they would like to go away. If they don't, they run the risk of adding to anger over how it has been handled.
With emotions over the whole issue of rape running high in India because of a series of unrelated cases that have shocked the country, the timing could hardly be worse for France, which is hoping to tie the New Delhi government down on a $12-18 billion deal for Rafale fighter jets.
Jones Mazurier has asked Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who is due to travel with Hollande, to investigate the behaviour of senior officials at the French consulate in Bangalore.
Aides to Fabius say consular support has been provided to both the father and the children. But they have refused repeated requests from AFP to respond to detailed evidence of conduct described by a British diplomat with decades of consular experience as "unusual to say the least."
Pascal Mazurier was charged in June 2012 with the rape of his three-year-old daughter. He was released on bail in October but was forced to surrender his passport.
Bangalore's Family Court last week rejected a request for him to be granted access to his children, on the grounds he is still charged with raping one of them.
His lawyers have filed a request to have the case dismissed that is due to go before the southern Indian city's High Court on March 8.
One of the allegations of irregularities in the consulate's handling of the case relates to the transfer of 250,000 rupees ($4,715) from the Mazuriers' joint account to deputy consul Vincent Caumontat, two days after Pascal was imprisoned.
The foreign ministry has also not explained why Dominique Causse, the consul at the time of Mazurier's arrest, suggested to police that Mazurier was subject to diplomatic immunity, when he knew the employee did not have a diplomatic passport. That stance delayed charges being brought for five days.
Jones Mazurier has also questioned why her husband is being assisted by his former colleagues, rather than an impartial official brought in from the embassy in New Delhi.
The foreign ministry will not confirm or deny paying Mazurier's legal bills.
As well as a legal team in Bangalore, he has retained the services of two of France's leading barristers, Pierre-Olivier Sur and Clemence Witt, who have portrayed their client as a victim of miscarriage of justice with its roots in a family dispute.
The British diplomat AFP interviewed suggested the resources thrown at the case were not consistent with Mazurier being the lowly "Category C" employee of the foreign ministry that his passport says he is.
"No matter how serious the charges against them, every national has a right to consular protection but these kind of barristers, who wouldn't seem to be directly involved in the case, don't come cheap," he said. "It is unusual to say the least."
Jones Mazurier's lawyers have denounced alleged intimidation of the doctors who testified that the girl was raped, accused police of misogynistic treatment of both the victim and her mother and hinted that corruption has led to crucial DNA evidence being tampered with.
Mazurier's French lawyers say he was framed by his wife and accuse her of fabricating evidence.
Against that background, both sides have publicly discussed contested evidence which, under normal judicial procedures, would be regarded as sub judice, creating fears any chance of the case ending in a fair trial has already been compromised.