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Russian artist defends leak of explicit video that brought down Macron ally as 'political porn'

Posted February 20, 2020 11:17 p.m. EST
Updated February 21, 2020 6:42 a.m. EST

— The Russian artist who published an explicit video that prompted a candidate to pull out of the Paris mayoral race told CNN on Thursday that he stole the incriminating footage from his girlfriend's computer, saying his actions were "just the beginning" of a "political porn" project.

Dissident artist Pyotr Pavlensky leaked explicit text messages and a 30-second video that Benjamin Griveaux, the official Paris mayoral candidate for Macron's governing La Republique en Marche party, allegedly sent to Alexandra de Taddeo.

Griveaux, a former government spokesperson, was married with children at the time.

"I stole this video," Pavlensky told CNN in a TV interview, adding that his girlfriend, Alexandra de Taddeo, "didn't know that I found and took the video." He says he discovered the footage last November.

"I showed her what I was doing after publication," said Pavlensky, who was granted political asylum in France in 2017.

De Taddeo's lawyer, Noemie Saidi-Cottier did not respond to CNN's multiple requests for comment but she told the Associated Press De Taddeo acknowledges receiving the alleged sex video but denies being involved with its publication online. CNN has reached out to prosecutors to see if they're aware of Pavlensky's claim that he stole the footage.

Pavlensky said de Taddeo was previously in a relationship with Griveaux, who dropped out of the race after the leak last week ahead of France's municipal elections that begin on March 15.

"For me this is only the beginning," Pavlensky said, adding that he was "happy" with the public's reaction.

He said that his website, which is currently down, was a place where people could "watch porn made by civil servants, politicians, representatives of power. It's porn, it's political art."

He declined to speak further about future projects.

Pavlensky and de Taddeo were taken into custody Saturday and questioned over three days. They have been placed under formal investigation for invasion of privacy and publishing images of a sexual nature without consent, according to a spokesman for the Paris prosecutor.

Griveaux's lawyer, Richard Malka, told CNN via text he had "no comment to make." But while withdrawing his candidacy on Friday last week, Griveaux said he and his family had endured "defamatory statements, lies, rumors, anonymous attacks, the disclosure of private conversations that were stolen and death threats" for over a year.

"Yesterday a new stage has been reached: a website, and social networks relayed vile attacks on my private life," he said in a televised statement Friday. "My family does not deserve this." Griveaux did not deny that he had sent the explicit videos.

Pavlensky: Griveaux would be a 'dangerous' mayor

Several French politicians have lamented Griveaux's resignation. Current Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who is running for re-election, called for the "respect of privacy" in a statement to CNN affiliate BFM TV.

Pavlensky denied to CNN suggestions that he released the video out of jealousy over Griveaux and de Taddeo's former relationship. He described the leak instead as an act of "political art" to inform Parisian voters that Griveaux had based his mayoral run on "hypocrisy" and "lies."

"His private life stopped being private ... the moment he made his wife and children an integral part of his image and campaign," Pavlensky said.

"I can't say what could have happened if he had become mayor," he said. "I think it would have been dangerous."

Pavlensky is famous for his performance protests, including sewing his lips together over the imprisonment of Russian punk group Pussy Riot, who were jailed for a performance critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He also once nailed his scrotum to Moscow's Red Square.

French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told the radio station France Inter on Wednesday that if Pavlensky was convicted by French judges—for the Griveaux leak - his status as a political refugee may be called into question.

Pavlensky, though, said he wasn't scared of losing his refugee status and that he was used to such threats.

"I'm not thinking about it because in my life there has always been something meant to scare me. I'm used to it."

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