Two lawyers representing an Oxford professor accused of rape are under investigation after it emerged that they had spoken with his alleged victims.
French legal authorities are examining the actions of the two men who each contacted one of Tariq Ramadan’s accusers before later joining the academic’s legal team.
Both men have insisted they have done nothing wrong after details of the contacts were first published in the French news magazine L'Obs.
Mr Ramadan, 57, was given a leave of absence from his post at Oxford University after he was charged in France with raping a feminist activist in 2012 and a disabled woman in 2009. The case has expanded after other allegations came to light.
Mr Ramadan, the grandson of the Muslim Brotherhood founder, has portrayed himself as a victim of a political witch-hunt in a book he published last year.
The current inquiry centres on contacts between William Bourdon, one of the lawyers, and Henda Ayari, the activist who accuses Mr Ramadan of attacking her in 2012.
His law firm contacted her with a five-page letter one month after she went public with her claims in October 2017, according to L'Obs. They later discussed issues including a threat by Mr Ramadan to sue her for slander, the weekly wrote.
Mr Bourdon was not retained by Ms Ayari but reportedly joined Mr Ramadan’s legal team in early May. Ms Ayari claimed in a tweet that she had been betrayed by a lawyer whom she had trusted and was not prepared to let the matter pass.
Her lawyers have referred the potential conflict of interest to legal authorities but Mr Bourdon said he had done nothing wrong.
He said that there should be no doubt that he accepted the job with Mr Ramadan “other than in compliance with my ethical obligations”, he said in a series of tweets.
He accepted that he had spoken with Ms Ayari but said that no advantage to Mr Ramadan had come of it.
“From this exchange, no advantage within the meaning of these rules resulted nor did it lead to the violation of any principles or secrets,” he wrote.
Another woman, who complained about the scholar five months after Ms Ayari, said that she was contacted by a second lawyer who now works for Mr Ramadan.
She claims that she was contacted by Ouadie Elhamamouchi, who called 20 times as he sought to represent her. Mr Elhamamouchi told L'Obs that he contacted her but did not discuss case-related issues with her.
Mr Ramadan was detained in French custody in February 2018 but was released on bail nine months later as he awaits trial.
He has denied raping two women in hotel rooms but dropped previous assertions that he had no sexual contact after hundreds of text messages were found between him and the disabled woman identified in French media only as Christelle. He has said any sexual contact was consensual.