Galway Irish Pub, a tiny watering hole by the Seine River, is popular with tourists and the police officers who work nearby. When a Canadian woman visited the bar last week, it was "Tequila Tuesday" with shots going for €2.50 ($3.80). "It may be raining cats and dogs outside, but it's raining TEQUILA at the Galway!!" the pub's Facebook page boasted.
What happened that night, apart from the free-flowing alcohol, is now the subject of a high-profile criminal investigation involving at least two French officers of an elite police unit who are suspected of raping the woman, a 34-year-old tourist from Toronto. Her name has not been made public.
The officers were having after-work drinks at the pub when they allegedly befriended the woman. Even though it was the middle of the night, they reportedly invited her to visit their workplace on the nearby Quai des Orfèvres, at the storied offices of the criminal-investigations department of the national police.
The case has attracted considerable media attention in France. But at the pub on Monday, a lean and lanky barmaid with a slight Irish accent refused to say anything about that "Tequila Tuesday."
"We're not talking about what happened," she said.
That will eventually be established by an investigating judge, but two officers have already been placed under formal investigation for viol en réunion, the French legal term for gang rape.
The police quarters where the alleged assault took place is a landmark 19th-century turreted building where films and books, including Georges Simenon's Commissioner Maigret series, have been set.
The alleged rapists are members of an anti-gang squad that handles high-profile robberies and hostage-takings. When the woman eventually left their offices, she lodged a formal complaint and quickly flew back to Canada.
The two officers – a captain and a major – have been released after being detained on the weekend. They are facing a formal investigation, a procedure initiated when there are serious concerns that a crime was committed. A third officer has been designated as a témoin assisté, or material witness who could ultimately be a suspect and has the right to have a lawyer present. The three were suspended from duty Sunday, pending the outcome of the investigation.
While the probe is under way, public opinion in France has been vocal. "The fact that the alleged crime took place within … the famous 36 Quai des Orfèvres is symbolically huge," said a representative from the anti-rape group, Collectif féministe contre le viol, who did want to be named. For many, it is as if a suspected crime had taken place at Scotland Yard.
Some papers, including the highly respected Le Monde, reported the two main suspects were also being investigated for allegedly tampering with a crime scene. Quoting an unnamed source, the newspaper Libération added that the alleged rapists had "cleaned up the place with bleach." But a reliable source from the prosecutor's office, who requested anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media, told The Globe and Mail that no one was being investigated for evidence tampering.
One of the defence lawyers, Sébastien Schapira, regrets that the alleged victim flew back to Canada so soon after lodging her complaint, making it impossible for her to be speak to police at the outset of the investigation.
The fact the alleged victim is Canadian and believed to have connections to law-enforcement agencies at home appears to have made a difference.
"She probably knows her rights very well," remarked the official from the anti-rape group. "And she comes from a country where women's rights are better respected than here." Had she been a French policewoman, she added, the alleged victim might have thought twice about filing a complaint, fearing for her career.
Only 10 per cent of rape victims in France file a complaint, according to Audrey Guiller and Nolwenn Weiler, authors of a recent book on sexual assault in France. It is estimated that only 3 per cent of cases go to trial.
Three police officers were suspected of raping a female prostitute in 2010 in Nice, but were acquitted. In 2012, a police officer was arrested for allegedly raping a woman while she was in the drunk tank.
Rights groups have documented police abuse in France for years. Amnesty International found a "lack of accountability for the victims' families" in a 2011 report on deaths in police custody.