PARIS — Rachida Dati built her against-the-odds career by defying convention. So it was in character when — while serving as France’s justice minister — she had a daughter and refused to say who the father was.
Now, what was once believed to be an exercise in discretion has morphed into a messy scandal involving tales of power, sex, and ambition. Dati, now 46, says simply: ‘‘I have a complicated private life.’’
Dati was the toast of Paris and foreign capitals when she served as justice minister under Sarkozy from June 2007 to June 2009. With her Algerian and Moroccan parents and humble origins as one of 11 children in a housing project, she was his emblem of diversity in a new France. She had a penchant for Dior clothes, stiletto heels, and expensive jewels.
Last week, Dati took one of France’s richest men to court in a bid to prove he is the father of her 3-year-old. A court in Versailles has set a Dec. 4 date to decide whether to order Dominique Desseigne, the multimillionaire owner of luxury hotels and casinos, to take a paternity test.
The 68-year-old Desseigne, a friend of former President Nicolas Sarkozy and the widowed father of two, is reportedly planning to exercise his right to refuse to provide a DNA sample. Legal analysts say he would do so at his own risk.
The tale is the latest in a series of amorous sideshows that has spiced up the French political scene. These increasingly complicated liaisons have gnawed away at the country’s long-standing veil of silence over top politicians’ private lives.
Today, the press doesn’t shirk at recounting the jealousies of President Francois Hollande’s live-in companion toward the mother of his four children. Or Sarkozy’s divorce while in office after his wife had an affair, and his quick remarriage to former model and singer Carla Bruni. Or the series of sexual lawsuits involving Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former chief of the International Monetary Fund.
Nor has it held back with the Dati case. Le Monde published a story suggesting that Dati entertained a string of eight lovers at the time she was seeing Desseigne. Le Point ran a five-page spread entitled ‘‘The Incredible Story of Rachida Dati,’’ prompting Dati to announce Friday that she plans to sue the magazine’s director ‘‘and his band of so-called journalists.’’
As the country’s top judicial official, Dati had a bevy of detractors and raised the ire of lawyers, magistrates, and aides who resigned one after the other. The nation, of course, was fascinated.
Still, her star was falling by the time Zohra was born on Jan. 2, 2009. She hung on until a government reshuffling in June. She now serves as a member of the European Parliament and keeps a link to the Paris power elite as the mayor of the capital’s tony 7th district.
Throughout her pregnancy, rumors flew about the baby’s father. An Arab sheik? A French politician? A Sarkozy brother? The name of the Spain’s then-prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, was bandied about so prominently that he was forced to publicly deny it was him.
Dati still hasn’t spoken about the little girl’s father. But she wants Desseigne, chief of the Lucien Barriere casino group and owner of the famed Champs-Elysees establishment Fouquet’s, to step forward.
Doing so would give her daughter his name, access to child support, and rights as an heir. Desseigne told M magazine that he would contest the request for DNA.